Although Thursday’s game at Barron Stadium was a rematch of last season’s opening contest between Rome High and Marietta, the game played out in a much-different fashion.
While 2018 was a hard-fought duel that saw Rome come out on top, this year’s Corky Kell Classic battle saw the Wolves struggle against the top-ranked Blue Devils en route to a 48-14 Marietta victory.
While the Wolves tried to rally in the second half, the Blue Devils outlasted Rome handing the Wolves their first regular season loss since Sept. 9, 2016. Marietta recovered a Rome fumble when Rashad Torrence hit Adam Peterson on the Wolves’ first kickoff return of the night, which set the tone for the remainder of the game.
“I thought we came out fast like we wanted to,” Marietta coach Richard Morgan said. “We kind of worked on that all week. Getting that turnover on the kickoff was enormous. Last year Rome made the big hits and we put the ball on the ground. This year we were making big hits and made some plays.
“I just couldn’t be any more proud of them. Winning football games is one thing, but when you come to Rome and beat a team like that at home, that says an awful lot about your program because that is a great program over there.”
After trailing 27-0 at halftime, the Wolves, ranked No. 2 in Class 5A, opened the second half with aggression and used a no-huddle offense that resulted in Rome scoring two touchdowns within two minutes of each other to cut the lead to 27-13.
“That’s the way we wanted to play from the beginning,” Rome head coach John Reid said. “We just didn’t do it.”
At that point in the game, the Wolves’ defense needed to make sure the Blue Devils’ offense stayed off the field. Unfortunately for Rome, that didn’t happen.
“We have 16 new starters, and against a team like that, you’ve got to be ready,” Reid said. “In critical situations we have to execute better. We got within 13. You’ve got to get them off the field one time. We just weren’t able to do that.”
Tennessee commit Harrison Bailey finished 19-of-30 for 367 yards and five touchdowns for Marietta, ranked No. 1 in Class 7A and No. 9 in the USA Today Super 25 Preseason Rankings.
Most of the senior’s passes went to Arik Gilbert, one of the top-ranked tight ends in the country, who finished with nine receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns on catches of 9 and 18 yards. Kimani Vidal kept the offense moving on the ground with 109 yards and two scores on 23 carries.
“They’ve been through these battles,” Morgan said of his offense. “They’ve played a lot of state-ranked and nationally-ranked teams. They’ve been through it before. Tonight, they were at home. They were at peace with it. I think that quiet confidence that our whole offense gets just makes a difference.”
The Rome High offense also showcased a different look from the past four years, evident by the team’s passing game.
Facing a third-and-10 on the Marietta 46-yard line, Junior quarterback Caleb Ellard, starting in his first year regular season game for the Wolves, hit Jay Wise on a key 11-yard pass to prolong the drive.
Two rushes from Ahijah Blackwell covered 20 yards and got the Wolves down to the Blue Devils’ 22. Two plays later, Ellard hit Wise on a 19-yard touchdown pass near the back of the end zone for a score. With the extra point from Alonzo Rodriguez, the Wolves cut the deficit to 27-7.
After forcing Marietta to punt, the Wolves found themselves back in the game when Ellard hooked up with Wise again, this time on a 53-yard touchdown pass to bring the score to 27-14.
Ellard connected with Jay Wise four times for 95 yards and two touchdowns in an offense that has been more run-oriented in recent years with names like Jamious Griffin and Jalynn Sykes.
The Wolves proved they could be successful relying mainly on a passing game, scoring all of their touchdowns through the air.
Ellard finished 11-of-22 for 144 yards. Blackwell led the ground game with 132 yards on 21 carries.
Following a bye week, the Wolves will host North Clayton on Sept. 6. The Blue Devils host St. Joseph’s Prep out of Philadelphia on Aug. 30 in a nationally televised game.