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
H - Armani Tookes 33 pass from Prentiss Noland (Alan Gonzalez kick), 5:09
H - Antonio Martin 5 run (Gonzalez kick), 10:17
B - CJ Clinkscales 3 run (Alejandro Mata kick), 0:04
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