ATLANTA -- Once the shock of the final minute of regulation had started to subside, Hunter Knight got mad. There was no show of emotion on the Calhoun High School senior linebacker's face, but inside he was boiling.
Instead of celebrating a 15-0 season and Class AA state championship Friday at the Georgia Dome, Knight and the Yellow Jackets watched in horror as nemesis Buford scored 14 points in the final 1:12 to tie the game at 24. Knight, though, put his anger to good use, his big hit on the first play in overtime causing a turnover and leading to Adam Griffith's 32-yard field goal for a 27-24 win.
"That last minute after they came back like they did, we were devastated, but Coach [Hal] Lamb got us together and reminded us that this is what we've been working so hard for," Knight said outside a jubilant Calhoun locker room. "Our character showed. We weren't going to lay down and lose this time."
Griffith's fourth field goal of the game gave Calhoun its first state title in five tries and the first for the program since 1952. It also ended a three-year title-game losing streak to the Wolves (14-1), who came into the game ranked high in several national polls and seeking their eighth state title in 12 years.
"I kind of thought coming into the game that I might have to make a big kick," the future University of Alabama kicker said. "I just tried to tell myself that it was just a field goal, like any other one I had kicked in my career. I didn't want to think about how big it was, or look at the crowd, or think about how it would mean a state championship. I just wanted to kick it the same as I had every other time."
That he had to kick it at all will be part of the game's lore in future years, though at the time it nearly floored the Jackets. Leading 24-10 after a Griffith 37-yard field goal with 3:07 remaining in the game, Calhoun appeared to kill any Buford comeback dreams when Heath Everett intercepted Sam Clay's pass near midfield. However, the Jackets were called for a roughing-the-passer personal foul and a dead-ball personal foul, moving the ball to the Calhoun 24.
Clay passed to Paris Head on the next play for a 24-yard touchdown to cut the lead to seven with 1:12 left, but the Jackets breathed a little easier after David Petroni's onside kick went out of bounds, with Calhoun taking over at the Buford 49.
However, three Calhoun runs netted 6 yards, and when Zane Rhodes had to field a low snap on the ensuing punt attempt, Buford's Dillon Lee knocked the ball out of his hands, recovered it at the 38 and went untouched into the end zone as the huge Calhoun crowd suddenly went silent.
Calhoun ran the clock out, went to the sideline to prepare for overtime and found a coach who still believed in his team.
"It was tough to see the look in everybody's eyes at the end, but this football team found a way," Coach Lamb said. "With two minutes to go we're taking headsets off; we're fixing to celebrate. But we gave them new life. I can't explain the punt, but we found a way to get it done.
"That last couple minutes I really didn't know what to think. I've never been a situation like that."
Buford had the ball first in overtime, and on the first play Knight stuck his helmet into the midsection of Andre Johnson, the ball bouncing right into Everett's hands as the still-stunned Calhoun sideline came quickly back to life. Lamb never hesitated to send Griffith in on first down, and he was true on the biggest kick of his life.
"We were going to kick it right there," Lamb said. "We've got the best kicker in the country, so why not kick it?"
The game was tied at 10 after an odd first half in which both defenses made stands and both offenses struck on big plays. Calhoun took a 10-3 lead on Darius Washington's 63-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Taylor Lamb, but Buford scored on its next play when C.J. Moore ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run.
Calhoun's defense, which yielded 173 rushing yards in the first half, began to assert itself in the third quarter, getting two consecutive three-and-outs. Following the second of those, the Jackets' offense put together a 77-yard drive that featured Taylor Lamb's diverse skills. Harassed all game by Bufurd's blitzing defense, he completed three passes for 41 total yards and ran four times for 28 yards, the final 15 for a touchdown on a keeper around left end.
Ben Lamb, the team's kick holder, caught the Wolves off guard with a quick snap and two-point conversion run and a 18-10 lead with 5:43 left in the third.
"We had to change up what we do because they have one of the best defenses in the country," Taylor Lamb said about his runs. "At that point we were starting to feel it was over, but we knew they're a great team."
The lead grew to 21-10 after a 11-play drive stalled at the Buford 29, with Griffith hitting from 46 then. Moments later, after Trent Frix stripped and recovered a fumble, Griffith hit from 37 yards and what appeared to be the nail in the coffin.
"What an amazing ending," said Taylor Lamb, who passed for 200 yards and ran for 51. "They're such a great team. It couldn't have gone down any better than that. We were in shock, the defense made a great play and we've got the best kicker in the nation. It was as simple as that, and the rest is history."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...