Early in the season, Cartersville moved past Buford into the No. 1 spot in the state rankings. But even then, Cartersville coach Joey King said Buford was still No. 1 until someone in Class AAAA beat the juggernaut Wolves.
King’s Purple Hurricanes did just that Saturday.
Cartersville’s defense forced four turnovers, including senior linebacker Tyler Reed’s sealing interception at the goal line, and prolific sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw a touchdown to tight end Miller Forristall, as the Purple Hurricanes ended Buford’s three-year reign with a 10-0 win Saturday in the Class AAAA state championship game at the Georgia Dome.
“I think we’ll take it now,” King said of the state title that capped an undefeated season for the No. 1 Purple Hurricanes.
King, in only his second season at Cartersville, led the Purple Hurricanes to their first state championship since 1999 and the program’s third overall.
It was a slobber-knocker of a high school football game between two perennial powers, supported by large, passionate fan bases. Buford threatened inside Cartersville territory twice in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t produce points against a Cartersville defense that played lights out. It was the first time Buford has been shut out since 2010.
Time after time, Buford’s bevy of talented backs appeared to be breaking free for big runs, only to have a Cartersville defender make touchdown-saving tackles. Senior outside linebacker Auston T. Davis, senior safety Kobie Whitfield, senior corner Trey Creamer, sophomore defensive end Darian Poellnitz and junior defensive back Xavior Coaxum each made big plays.
"We knew we had to come with everything we had," Davis said.
Stymied for the majority of four quarters, Buford mounted a late charge, with quarterback Mic Roof leading a late drive down to the Cartersville 10-yard line. But Purple Hurricanes senior linebacker Tyler Reed picked off Roof at the goal line.
With Buford’s loss, this is the first season since 2005 a team from Gwinnett County has not won a state championship. The Wolves finished at 13-2.
“I thought our kids fought their guts out,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “They never folded. The toughness and the class they showed, I told them I was as proud of them as any football team I’ve ever brought into this dome. If we can’t take a little bit of bad with all the good we’ve had, I think something’s wrong with us.”
Lawrence got off to an erratic start, completing just 4 of his first 11 passes. But he delivered a perfect throw to Terrius Callahan for a 36-yard completion that set up Johnathan Cruz’s 47-yard field goal that gave the Purple Hurricanes a 3-0 midway through the second quarter.
Lawrence, a 6-3, lanky sophomore with shoulder-length hair, is the top-rated quarterback in the class of 2016. He completed 11 of 23 passes for 141 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, capping a prolific season that him pass for more than 3,500 yards with 43 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
“We just wanted to hold onto the ball and not turnover,” Lawrence said. “And it worked out.”
Tiamon Pennymon recovered a fumble at the Buford 10-yard line with 1:48 left in the second quarter. Two plays later, Lawrence scrambled to his right and flicked a touchdown pass into a well-covered Forristall, sending Cartersville into halftime with a 10-0 lead.