Jamarius Isaac made sure he didn’t leave Buford High School without a state championship.
The senior was the fourth-quarter hero for the Wolves. He had a fumble recovery, caught the tying touchdown pass and came up with game-changing interception in overtime to spark Buford to a 17-14 win over Warner Robins in the Class AAAAA championship game on Friday at Georgia State Stadium.
Warner Robins threw an interception on its first possession in overtime. Isaac intercepted Jalen Addie’s third-down pass in the end zone. Buford ran two plays and advanced the ball to the 7 before calling on Hayden Olsen, who drilled the ball through the uprights for the winning 24-yard field goal.
“I knew at that moment I had to step up for my team,” Isaac said. “I kind of messed up a lot throughout the game so I knew the moment would come that I could make a big play. I was watching my reads and I took it.”
The win gave No.5 Buford (14-1) its 12th state championship and first since 2014. It marked the third straight season that No. 2 Warner Robins (13-2) has fallen short in the title game.
Buford became the first team in GHSA history to win a state football championship in five different classifications. Buford has won titles at Class A, AA, AAA, AAAA and AAAAA. The Wolves move up to AAAAAA next season.
“I’m just so happy these kids get to go back to school on Monday morning with a state championship hat and state championship shirt,” Buford’s first-year head coach Bryant Appling said.
Buford forced the overtime by driving 78 yards in 14 plays and scored when backup quarterback Ashton Daniels threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Isaac with 27 seconds left. Isaac got the drive started when he recovered a Warner Robins fumble. Olsen’s extra point tied the game 14-14.
“I told coach, I have had a lot of chances, but give me a shot this week and I’ll make it worth it,” Isaac said. “I’ll make it count, you know. That’s what they did and I can’t thank them enough for giving me the change.”
Appling made the strategic move to switch quarterbacks in the third period, inserting Ashton Daniels in place of Jarvis Evans. Daniels wound up completing 7 of 13 for 77 yards.
“This week we felt like we had to go with the hot hand,” Appling said.
Warner Robins was able to move the ball into position to try a 51-yard field goal with two seconds left in regulation. But Cary Payne’s kick was short and wide right, sending the game to overtime.
Buford’s top runner was Gabe Ervin, who carried 24 times for 57 yards and one touchdown, with Victor Venn running 16 times for 50 yards.
Addie was 7-for-14 for 63 yards and rushed 14 times for 120 yards and one touchdown for Warner Robins.
Buford’s first touchdown was set up by a turnover. Buford’s Matthew Alexander poked the ball loose from Addie and Ryland Gandy recovered at the 20. The Wolves scored four plays later when Ervin ran it in from the 1.
Warner Robins tied the game at 7 with 1:53 left in the half. The Demons switched to shifty tailback James Smith and he opened the drive with a 24-yard run. The key play came on fourth-and-2 at the 13, when Ahmad Walker eluded a tackler that appeared to have him trapped in the backfield, and was able to pick up the first down. Walker went on to score on a 2-yard run to complete the 12-play, 59-yard drive.
Buford appeared to have taken the lead to start the third quarter. But a holding call negated Venn’s 75-yard touchdown and led to a Buford punt. Warner Robins returner Ty Carr took the ball 54 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the 12. Addie scored on a keeper on the next play, running against the flow, to put the Demons on top 14-7 with 9:49 left.
Warner Robins had a chance to take a two-score lead midway in the fourth quarter. A 64-yard run by Addie advanced the ball to the Buford 11, but the Demons settled for a 24-yard Payne field-goal attempt that sailed wide right with 8:41 remaining.
With time running down, Buford went for it on fourth-and-3 at its own 41. Warner Robins’ Victor Burley stopped Venn short of the first down. But the Demons couldn’t take advantage and turned it over three plays later when Addie’s 16-yard completion to Marcayll Jones was stripped and recovered by Isaac.
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