Class 6A blog: Buford provides familiar ending to unusual season

Lee County quarterback Chauncey Magwood (7) is brought down by Buford’s defense during the second half of their Class 6A state high school football final Tuesday, December 29, 2020 in Atlanta. (PHOTO/Daniel Varnado)
Lee County quarterback Chauncey Magwood (7) is brought down by Buford’s defense during the second half of their Class 6A state high school football final Tuesday, December 29, 2020 in Atlanta. (PHOTO/Daniel Varnado)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

A high school football season unlike any other had a familiar feel to it at the end.

Buford capped off the pandemic-disrupted season with a 34-31 overtime victory against Lee County last week at Georgia State’s Center Parc Stadium to claim the Class 6A championship. Although the Wolves were playing in 6A for the first time, it wasn’t unusual to see them as the last team standing – the championship was Buford’s 12th since 2000, with at least one in every classification from A to 6A, and 13th overall.

Buford defeated Warner Robins 17-14 in overtime in the 2019 Class 5A before moving up during the GHSA’s offseason reclassification process. The Wolves lost their opener this season, 28-14 against Region 3-7A champion North Cobb, but won their next 13 games.

“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Buford coach Bryant Appling said after the game. “It wasn’t the prettiest game. We made a bunch of mistakes, but our kids being tough, going through all the COVID regulations and everything since June 8, they have stepped up and have handled it great. I just think the grittiness of them, the toughness of them showed up in overtime.”

Buford trailed 31-24 with less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter but drove 69 yards in nine plays, tying the game on a 16-yard pass from Ashton Daniels to Isaiah Bond with 46 seconds left.

The Wolves had the ball first in overtime and got a 26-yard field goal from Alejandro Mata. In its overtime possession, Lee County had the ball first-and-goal at the 4, but Trojans running back Caleb McDowell was stripped of the ball by Jake Pope, and River Wilson recovered at the 3 to end the game.

McDowell, a South Carolina signee, scored second-quarter touchdowns on a 95-yard kickoff return and a 32-yard run, giving him 18 touchdowns in five playoff games. Lee County (12-2) was denied in its bid to win its third Class 6A championship in four years.

Here are some of the other top stories from Class 6A this year.

*Reclassification impact: Buford wasn’t the only team that had a successful first season after moving into 6A, as Westlake and Carrollton both made long playoff runs and finished in the top 10. Westlake had won six consecutive region titles in 7A before moving down and made it seven when it won Region 4 this season. The Lions advanced to the semifinals and finished ranked No. 3. Carrollton won the Region 5 championship, reached the state quarterfinals and was ranked No. 10. Other notable new teams in the class were Rome (6-4, Region 5 runner-up), Kell (6-4, Region 6 runner-up) and Kennesaw Mountain (4-6, first-ever playoff berth).

*COVID-19 impact: Class 6A football was not immune to the pandemic that disrupted sports worldwide. Less than half of the teams in 6A (26 of 56) were able to play a full 10-game regular season. However, all but three played at least eight games. The three teams that played fewer than eight – Tucker with seven, Heritage-Conyers and Rockdale County with five each – are from school districts that delayed the start of the seasons beyond the two-week postponement instituted by the Georgia High School Association. In addition, no schools had to end the season prematurely or cancel their entire seasons. That wasn’t true in any other classification.

*Breakout season: The biggest Cinderella story in Class 6A, if not the state, this season was River Ridge. The school opened in 2009, but the Knights had just one winning season – an 8-2 record against a non-region schedule in 2011 – until getting over the hump in 2020. River Ridge won the Region 7 championship, its first region title, finished 9-0 in the regular season and 6-0 in region play, and advanced for the first time to the state quarterfinals, losing to Lee County 49-31. Head coach Michael Collins, formerly at Wheeler, Chamblee and Pebblebrook, is 14-8 in his two seasons at a school that had won just 31 percent of its games before his arrival.

*Players of the year: All-state teams won’t be named until later this month, but at least five regions in 6A have announced their all-region teams. Four of those regions named a player (or co-players) of the year. They were QB T.J. Lewis of Glynn Academy (Region 2), WR/DB Antonio Jones of Lovejoy and WR/DB Nate Wiggins of Westlake (Region 4), RB Amehre Morrison of River Ridge (Region 7) and WR/DB Joshua Pickett of Habersham Central and WR/RB Mekhi Mews of Central Gwinnett (Region 8). In Region 6, Sprayberry RB Damarion Owens was the offensive player of the year, and Allatoona CB Brett Blomquist was the defensive POY.

About the Author

In Other News