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FOOTBALL: Wolves prepare to take on role of favorites entering state playoffs

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Whether it’s moving practice to Barron Stadium or taking in a late night pep rally, the Rome High football team is used to the changes that come with the postseason.

And while the Wolves plan to approach the playoffs the same way as last season, they know things are different this time. As the defending champions approach their first-round game against Cedar Shoals tonight, they know the entire state is watching.

“I feel like there is a bigger target on our shoulders for sure,” Rome quarterback Knox Kadum said. “We know we have teams coming after us this year instead of us coming after them.”

While Rome won the Region 7-5A title last season, the team wasn’t chosen by many to win the state championship or even make it to the finals in Atlanta. That isn’t the case this season, with the team spending most of the season ranked No. 1 in 5A by multiple outlets.

The Wolves (10-0) have dealt with a target on their back all season and have handled it, scoring 40 or more points in nine straight games and seeming to get better even as the pressure kept building.

The key for Rome throughout the season has been taking it one practice and one game at a time, no matter the opponent. The Wolves are sticking to that mindset, even with the highest aspirations for the postseason.

“The message is that we want to be one of 16 teams at the end of the night tomorrow,” Rome coach John Reid said. “Whatever it takes, that’s what we want from them. Nothing else but the best.”

Reid loves reminding players of what Rome did two years ago, when it entered the playoffs as a No. 4 seed and upset region champion Stephenson in the first round.

It’s a quick reminder of what might happen if Rome doesn’t focus tonight.

Cedar Shoals is playing in its first postseason game since 2008 after winning its final three games of the season. None of those wins came against teams in the playoffs, but Reid still wants his players’ complete focus.

“Well, they’re a playoff team in the state of Georgia,” Reid said. “They’ve got a good quarterback, good running back, a big offensive line and a fast defense. In the playoffs, it’s always going to be a tough task.”

At the pep rally on Thursday, Reid urged the crowd to bring as much noise as possible for tonight’s game. Last season, that crowd helped Rome go 4-0 at home in the playoffs, including a pair of shutouts in the first and second round.

But the Wolves know this isn’t last season, and they know the respect any playoff team demands.

“We just need to stay on that same grind and just keep pushing ourselves,” Rome defensive end Jamarcus Chatman said. “Coach is going to push us the same way he has all season. We just need to stick to what we can do.”