Class 6A put on the most exciting show in the state championship games, played last weekend at Georgia State’s Center Parc Stadium, and Buford made more history with its 21-20 victory over Hughes.
Buford (14-1) trailed by 14 points in the first half and by six points in the fourth quarter before taking its first lead of the game on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Ashton Daniels to Tobi Olawole and an extra point by Alejandro Mata with 2:55 remaining. Hughes drove down the field on the ensuing possession but missed a 35-yard field goal on the final play of the game.
The championship was Buford’s third straight (longest active streak), 13th this century (most by any team) and 14th overall (second only to Valdosta’s 24). The Wolves trailed in the fourth quarter in all three games. They defeated Warner Robins in the 2019 final and Lee County in 2020, both in overtime.
“It’s been amazing. I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Daniels said. “This senior class that I’ve been a part of, we’re the glue to all three of the state championships, basically. I trusted my guys, loved my guys so much, and we knew we were going to come in and do it again.”
Buford became just the 12th team in state history to overcome a 14-point deficit in a state championship game. The most recent had been Lee County in 2017.
Buford’s Bryant Appling also became the first coach in GHSA history to win three state championships in his first three seasons as head coach. During his tenure, the Wolves are 41-3 overall and 15-0 in the playoffs.
Despite the loss, Hughes (13-2) had the best season in the school’s 13-year history. The Panthers won their first region title since 2013, finished with a school-record 13 victories and reached the state finals for the first time. Their previous best season was in 2020, when they went 11-2 and reached the quarterfinals.
*A season to remember: Buford and Hughes weren’t the only Class 6A schools that had some notable accomplishments in 2021. Brunswick won its first region title since 2009 and had its first 11-win season since 1999. Alcovy, which opened in 2006, won a region title and played in the second round of the playoffs for the first time. Carrollton, which had lost in the quarterfinals the past five seasons, got over the hump this year with a dramatic 37-32 victory over Westlake to reach its first semifinal since 2013. Kennesaw Mountain (opened in 2000) got its first region title and first playoff victory. Cambridge won nine games for the first time in the school’s 10-year history and won a playoff game for the second straight season. And Shiloh won a playoff game for the first time since David Pollack led the 2000 team to the quarterfinals.
*Players of the year: All-state teams won’t be named until Jan. 2, but seven of the eight regions in 6A have announced their all-region teams. Six of those regions named an overall player of the year. They were RB Simeon Askew of Houston County (Region 1), DL Ka’shawn Thomas of Brunswick (Region 2), RB Joe Hampton of Evans (Region 3), ATH Xavier Smith of Hughes (Region 4), QB Avery Smith of Riverwood (Region 7), and LB/RB Kyle Efford of Dacula (Region 8). In Region 6, South Cobb RB Jonathan Simmons was the offensive player of the year, and Allatoona LB Vinnie Canosa was the defensive POY.
*Reclassification looming: The GHSA’s reclassification process, which should be finalized by early January, will have a major impact on Class 6A next season. Five of the teams that finished in the top 10 in 2021 – No. 1 Buford, No. 4 Carrollton, No. 5 Westlake, No. 6 Dacula and No. 7 Cambridge – will be among 19 schools that will move out of Class 6A. Thirty-seven 6A teams will be staying put. They’ll be joined by 21 newcomers, most notably Tift County (from 7A), Woodward Academy (5A), Marist (4A), St. Pius (5A), Blessed Trinity (5A) and Roswell (7A). The addition of Woodward, Marist, St. Pius and Blessed Trinity is especially significant, because the second-highest classification traditionally has not had private schools.