As his players celebrated on the turf Friday night at Barron Stadium, Rome head coach John Reid could only stand among them and smile, unable to produce words.
The Rome Wolves had not only taken down one of the top programs in the state, they had done it in impressive fashion.
Buford was held to five first downs the entire game and Rome quarterback Knox Kadum accounted for four touchdowns as Rome won 45-7 in the Class 5A state semifinals. The rematch of last year’s state championship game led to the largest loss for Buford since 1973.
“I don’t even know what to say about this. We just took everything one down at a time,” Reid said. “We talked all week about breaking the team’s will, and at halftime that’s all we told them to do. Just keep coming after them and break their spirits.”
No. 1 Rome (14-0) now heads to its second consecutive state championship game, where it will play No. 6 Warner Robins at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta next Friday at 4:30 p.m.
Kadum racked up 250 total yards and four touchdowns, including 143 rushing yards and two rushing scores, both coming in the second half. Wide receiver Xavier Roberts-Donaldson accounted for three touchdowns, including two touchdown receptions in the first half.
Rome ran where it wanted and when it wanted, recording 404 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. The offensive line bullied Buford’s defensive front, and Kadum fooled the opponents routinely with the read option.
Up 17-7 at halftime, Kadum scored on a 50-yard touchdown run on Rome’s second offensive play of the second half. After each team traded fumbles, Rome rolled down the field again and scored on a 15-yard run from Roberts-Donaldson.
In the fourth, Kadum scored on a 32-yard touchdown run and Nick Burge scored on 22-yard run. It didn’t matter if it was Kadum, Burge, Jamious Griffin, Marquez Kirby or Jalynn Sykes, Rome was going to get the yards it wanted.
“Our coaches prepare us every week, and our scout team gives us a great look in practice,” senior center Jackson Norton said. “For the line, it was just about playing the next play. Every play matters, so we execute the one in front of us and move on to the next one.”
The Wolves of Buford had no success on offense either, getting beaten at the line of scrimmage on that side as well.
Senior running back Christian Turner led the team on offense with a mere 45 rushing yards on seven carries.
No. 3-ranked Buford (11-2) scored its only touchdown after Rome lost a fumble in the second quarter up 10-0. Quarterback Aaron McLaughlin completed a 27-yard pass to Isaiah Isaac, then scored himself on a 5-yard touchdown run.
Rome countered on the next drive with a 19-yard Kadum touchdown pass to Roberts-Donaldson to go up 17-7, and Buford got two first downs the rest of the game.
A front seven featuring guys like Ja’Quon Griffin, Adam Anderson, K.J. Hicks and Jamarcus Chatman swarmed McLaughlin all night, leading to 16 incompletions.
“We said we were going to dominate this team, and when we put our minds to something, then that’s what we are going to do,” Ja’Quon Griffin said. “We can’t let our city down. There was no doubt in our mind we could beat this team how we did.”
More than anything, Rome dominated possession, having the ball for more than 31 minutes in the 48-minute game. The biggest difference was Rome’s third-down defense, which forced Buford to go 0-for-12 on third-down conversions.
Now Rome takes on fellow undefeated squad Warner Robins, which is coming off a 31-7 win against Carver-Atlanta on Friday night.
But the Wolves haven’t won their second state championship yet, and Reid is going to make sure his team is just as ready for next week.
“This was not the state championship, and we are keeping that in mind all next week,” Reid said. “The state championship is next Friday, and we have to rally again to play good football.”