Defensive prowess gave way to quick drives and big plays on offense for Rome High on Friday night as the Wolves made their opening argument for another postseason run.
Ahijah Blackwell ran for 211 yards and three touchdowns, Ethan Scales had two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and Rome held visiting Lithonia scoreless in a 52-0 win in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
The No. 3-ranked Wolves led 39-0 at halftime after scoring 25 points in the second quarter. Rome scored on six of its first seven possessions, with four of them lasting four plays or less.
“They’ve had a good season and have some outstanding athletes on defense,” Rome head coach John Reid said. “I think they gamble a little bit and really did a great job of putting pressure on people in the last few weeks. So I think we did some things that exploited that.”
Quarterback Caleb Ellard hit Adam Peterson on the run early in the second quarter and the Rome senior found enough room to go 46 yards for a touchdown on a one-play drive.
“They played a lot of press-man in this game, so we worked on our stuff in practice and ran a little bit of a rub route right there to cause that separation,” Ellard said. “I put it right on him and we scored. It was a nice play, well-designed.”
Blackwell then scored with five minutes left in the first half on a 57-yard run that was just the second play of a drive that stated on Rome’s own 39-yard line. The senior ball carrier found an open field again on the third play of the second half as he sprinted 73 yards into the end zone to make it 46-0.
“It’s about time to start having some weapons,” Reid said with a smile. “We’ve been through some things as we’ve progressed through the years to try to find people here and there, and I hope we’re hitting our peak.”
Rome (9-2) will be on the road next week in the second round to play Warner Robins, a team that has become a familiar postseason opponent for the Wolves. The Demons (10-2) defeated Jonesboro 28-7 on Friday.
Rome won its second straight state championship by beating Warner Robins on its home field in 2017 before falling to the Region 1-5A champions in the state semifinals last season on a return trip to Central Georgia.
“You just never know what’s going to happen,” Reid said. “We’re just happy to be in the final 16. That was our goal. You can’t be in the final eight this week, you can only be in the final 16. We’ll have to work on that next week.”
Lithonia (4-7) came into Barron Stadium as the No. 3 seed from Region 5-5A and had problems with Rome’s overpowering defense from the start. The Bulldogs finished with negative rushing yardage and the Wolves’ defense added to its team’s tally when Nick Burge, Simon Nguyen and Rayquan Jones met Lithonia’s Devonte Slaton in his end zone for a safety with 10:40 to go in the second quarter.
“We stop what you’re best doing,” Rome defensive lineman Jorden Neal said. “When we stop what you’re best at, then you don’t know what to do. You’ve got to dig deep in the play book. It’s a mind game.”
Lithonia found success in its passing game midway through the second period as quarterback Amir Streeter connected with Khalil Roach on three straight plays to get the Bulldogs to the Rome 11. Scales then picked off Streeter on the next play that led to Blackwell’s first long touchdown run of the night.
With a running clock in the second half, Rome continued to cause headaches for Lithonia’s offense, intercepting three more passes in the fourth quarter, the last of which saw Scales run it back from the 26 and dive into the end zone for the final score as time expired.