FAYETTEVILLE — Going into Friday’s game, Starr’s Mill’s Panthers had home field advantage over Rome High, playing in a stadium where it had lost just once all season.
But the Wolves hadn’t lost a single game all season and didn’t let them feed off of that home field advantage for very long.
Winning the battle of speed, size and overall physicality, the top-ranked Wolves didn’t miss a beat in its first road playoff game in two years and Rome rolled to a 59-10 win against the Panthers in the Class 5A state quarterfinals.
It is Rome’s 25th straight win and gives it a second straight trip to the semifinals where the Wolves will host Buford next Friday night in a rematch of last year’s 5A state title game.
“I could kind of tell early in the week that the kids were kind of excited about getting on the road. I don’t know why,” Rome coach John Reid said Friday night at Starr’s Mill. “But I could tell it wasn’t bothering them, and I thought they did a great job prepping for this team.”
Junior quarterback Knox Kadum finished with 291 total yards and three touchdowns, while running back Jamious Griffin tallied 141 total yards and three scores. Junior wide receiver Xavier Roberts-Donaldson tallied 109 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
Rome (13-0) finished the game with 344 rushing yards as the offensive line built gaps for the Wolves’ skill players all night. It was Rome’s physical presence at the line of scrimmage which contributed the most to a 42-0 Rome run that began in the second quarter.
No. 8 Starr’s Mill only trailed 17-10 with four minutes left in the first half, but a pair of key Kadum completions led to an 8-yard touchdown run by Griffin with 3:13 left. After forcing a Panthers three-and-out, the Wolves scored again on a Kadum 24-yard run to go up 31-10 at the half.
On the second play of the third quarter, Kadum found Jevard Williams for a 77-yard touchdown pass, extending the lead. The Wolves’ Derricus Smith blocked a Starr’s Mill punt minutes later, and Griffin scored on a 19-yard touchdown run on the very next play, Putting Rome up 45-10.
“The defense began to step up and make plays, and that just motivated us on offense to put it in the end zone for them,” Kadum said. “They were giving us great field position all night. When you have a defense like that, it makes it a lot easier to capitalize.”
The only offensive gaffe for Rome came on the first drive when Marquez Kirby’s 51-yard run ended in a fumble that went through the end zone for a touchback. A Griffin touchdown run and Kadum touchdown pass to Roberts-Donaldson still kept the Wolves up 14-0 after one quarter.
The Panthers (11-2) managed a pair of scoring drives, including a 5-yard touchdown run from Kalen Simms in the second. Those drives were aided by a few gadget plays, including a hidden ball play and a pass to an offensive lineman. But when Starr’s Mill ran out of ways to fool Rome, the visiting defense began to hunt.
“They tried every trick in the book, and our kids still only gave them 10 points,” Reid said. “The biggest thing was our kids stopped their base offense early. They couldn’t run their offense, at all.”
Roberts-Donaldson scored his second touchdown of the game on a 45-yard punt return touchdown in the third, making it 52-10 and triggering a running clock. Rome scored once more, on a 5-yard run from sophomore Nick Burge.
Next up for Rome is a Buford team that is seeking revenge for the end of last season. Suffice it to say, Rome players are eager for round two as well.
“It’s just amazing to get to play this team again. I mean, it is a rematch of the state title game,” Rome defensive lineman Ja’Quon Griffin said. “And to be doing it at Barron Stadium, it is going to be lit.”