The Buford Wolves haven’t made things easy on themselves during their most recent run of championship game appearances, but the results usually turn out the same.

Buford rallied in the state final for the third consecutive season, overcoming deficits of 14 points in the first half and six points in the second, and held on to defeat Hughes 21-20 when the Panthers missed a 35-yard field goal on the final play of the Class 6A final Friday night at Georgia State’s Center Parc Stadium.

The victory gave top-ranked Buford (14-1) its 13th state title since 2001 and 14th overall, and Wolves’ Bryant Appling became the first coach in GHSA history to win three state titles in his first three seasons as head coach. No. 3 Hughes, appearing in a championship game for the first time, finished the season 13-2.

Buford didn’t lead until Ashton Daniels’ 34-yard touchdown pass to Tobi Olawole made it 21-20 with 2:55 remaining in the game.

“I had trust in my guys throughout the whole drive,” Daniels said. “We had a lot of drives where we left some points off the board, and we didn’t want that feeling again. We knew that it was essential to go down and get seven and go up by one. I knew my line was going to give me great protection and I knew Tobi was going to be down the field, and I just threw it up to him.”

But the game wasn’t in hand yet. Hughes drove from its 20-yard line and had the ball at the Buford 18 with seven seconds left. Prentiss “Air” Noland threw incomplete on first down, setting the stage for the first field-goal attempt of the season for Alan Hernandez. His kick came up short, and the Wolves celebrated the title.

The Wolves also trailed in the fourth quarter of their past two championship games but came back to defeat Warner Robins 17-14 in 2019 and Lee County 34-31 last year. Both of those victories came in overtime.

Daniels was 14-of-20 passing for 179 yards, and his 1-yard touchdown run with 4:41 remaining in the third quarter tied the game 14-14.

Hughes answered with a 12-play, 57-yard drive on its next possession and went back ahead 20-14 on a 30-yard touchdown run by Antonio Martin. The Panthers missed the extra-point attempt, however, so the lead remained at six points.

Martin was a problem throughout the night for the Buford defense, which held 11 of its 15 opponents this season to a touchdown or less. Martin rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.

Hughes scored on its first two possessions of the game for a 14-0 lead. The Panthers went 85 yards in eight plays on the first drive, getting a 33-yard touchdown pass from Noland to Armani Tookes.

Buford responded with a drive to the Hughes 16, but Daniels’ pass on a second-and-12 play was intercepted near the goal line by Rodney Shelley and returned to midfield. Martin scored on a 5-yard run eight plays later to make it 14-0 with 10:17 remaining in the half. Martin carried six times on the drive for 46 yards.

Buford got a much-needed touchdown just before halftime, taking advantage of a short punt that gave the Wolves the ball at their 39-yard line. From there, they went 61 yards in 3:44 and scored on a 3-yard run by CJ Clinkscales to cut the lead to 14-7 with four seconds remaining in the half. Buford had been outgained 166-71 until that drive.

The Wolves, who moved up into the classification only last year, are scheduled to go to Class 7A next year, and most of the rest of 6A is probably happy to see them leave. In its two seasons in the class, Buford went 27-2 overall (22-0 vs. other 6A teams) with two championships.

Hughes - 7-7-6-0 - 20

Buford - 0-7-7-7 - 21

First quarter

H - Armani Tookes 33 pass from Prentiss Noland (Alan Gonzalez kick), 5:09

Second quarter

H - Antonio Martin 5 run (Gonzalez kick), 10:17

B - CJ Clinkscales 3 run (Alejandro Mata kick), 0:04

Third quarter

B - Ashton Daniels 1 run (Mata kick), 4:41

H - Martin 30 run (kick failed), 0:12

B - Tobi Olawole 34 pass from Daniels (Mata kick), 2:54

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