On his first carry of the 1A state championship game Wadley senior running back Jumall Buchanan went 69 yards for a touchdown. On his second carry he suffered an injury to his right leg.
It turns out that second carry was also his last, and Wadley's dynamic two-back offense was forced to play without its second-leading rusher for the rest of the game.
The end result was a 40-16 Sweet Water victory in a game that left Wadley with plenty of what-if questions, especially regarding the absence of Buchanan.
“I think it impacted [the outcome] a pretty substantial amount because we rely on him a lot,” said Wadley head coach Shenan Motley. “It was a pretty big factor as far as our game and our game plan with most stuff that we do because we've got to put somebody else in there that doesn't have a whole lot of experience at that spot.”
Buchanan's opening run and a kickoff return for a touchdown late in the second quarter by Jacob Marable helped Wadley keep the game close through the first half. Wadley also got a 29-yard field goal from Brock Baldridge and trailed just 20-16 at the break.
But the physicality of the Sweet Water team took over in the second half, and Wadley was held scoreless over the final two quarters.
The dagger came with Wadley trailing 27-16 early in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Lakevion O'Neal connected with receiver Calon Cottle on what would have been a 43-yard gain on fourth down to give Wadley a first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line. But a holding penalty wiped out the play, and Wadley was forced to punt.
Sweet Water scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession to make it a three score game, and Wadley's hopes of its first-ever playoff-won state title were essentially dashed.
Wadley, which averaged over 300 rushing yards per game through its first 14 contests, was held to just 161 yards on the ground. Buchanan actually finished as the team's leading rusher with 72 yards on his only two carries. Marable was held to 54 yards on 13 carries after leading the Bulldogs with over 1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns prior to the title game.
By contrast, Sweet Water piled up over 500 yards of offense, with 366 of those coming on the ground. Christian Dunning ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns. And Jaland Lewis Horton ran for 158 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries and also caught a 55-yard touchdown pass and was named the game's MVP.
The loss was a sour end to maybe the sweetest season in the history of Wadley's program. Their appearance in the state championship game was the first ever in school history, and their 13 wins on the season matched the school record in that category.