WARNER ROBINS – This was a feeling Rome fans had not felt in a long time.
Despite the resolve of the Rome High football team to rally back from a 28-14 deficit in the third quarter, the Wolves were unable to make a final push on the road against Warner Robins and lost to the Demons 45-28 Friday in the Class 5A state semifinals.
The defeat cuts short Rome’s quest of playing for a third straight state championship and ends its string of 40 consecutive victories, a mark that served as the longest current streak of any team in the state prior to Friday’s game.
The last time the Wolves had lost was Sept. 9, 2016, when Region 7-5A foe Kell edged out Rome 33-30 in Cobb County. That season saw Rome win its first of three region championships under head coach John Reid, which led to the first state football championship in Rome High history.
Reid was reflective after the loss Friday night at McConnell-Talbert Stadium – the place where Rome won it’s second state title just less than a year before. He spoke about the seniors, who finish with a record of 49-7 over their four seasons.
“You can’t say enough about them,” Reid said. “We enjoy spending time with them and I feel bad for them. The way we go about things is we never think that there is going to be an end. So tonight, there is an end, but there is no loser on this field. These kids went at it. They fought until the end.”
Down 28-14 after a Warner Robins touchdown drive to open the third quarter, Rome (13-1) regained its composure when a Demon punt went just 16 yards after a Rome bounce to put the Wolves on the Warner Robins 29-yard line with 6:08 on the clock.
Quarterback Knox Kadum and receiver Xavier Roberts-Donaldson coordinated a combo on the very next play from scrimmage, with Kadum’s screen pass to his fellow senior sent back to the QB as he ran down the far sideline.
Kadum’s catch on the run led to a touchdown, and kicker Alonzo Rodriguez made his third of four extra points to put Rome within a score.
Two plays into the ensuing Demon drive, Warner Robins quarterback Dylan Fromm was picked off by DeKerion Jones and returned to the 16. Rome senior running back Jamious Griffin ran the ball four straight times and got into the end zone on a 4-yard scamper with 3:57 to go in the quarter to tie the game at 28-28.
It would be as close as the Wolves would get to the lead in the second half, however, as their final three drives would end without a score while Warner Robins (12-2) would lean on Fromm to get them 17 unanswered points before the final buzzer.
“Coming into this season, we didn’t know if we could win the region or make the playoffs. And they went all the way to the semifinals on someone else’s field,” Reid said. “I think early on some of their drives just got extended by some untimely penalties and we couldn’t overcome that. I thought we had a good run in the third quarter and it was a back-and-forth game. They got the best of us in the end. They had a good game plan.
Three of Warner Robins’ first four touchdown drives included costly Rome penalties on third-and-long that kept the Demons’ offense on the field. The host’s defense kept Griffin hemmed up most of the night, with his longest run being a 27-yard carry in the third quarter.
Kadum, who is a four-year starter, was in on the Wolves’ first two touchdowns. He completed a flea-flicker play with a 41-yard touchdown pass to Roberts-Donaldson to cap an 88-yard drive in the first quarter that led to a 7-0 Rome lead, and then pushed his way behind his offensive line from less than a yard out in the second quarter to tie the game up 14-14.
Fromm finished the game with 373 yards passing for four touchdowns, two of which went to receiver Marcayll Jones.