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PREP FOOTBALL: Rome ready for rematch with Buford

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For as long as this season has been, the possibility of another meeting between Rome and Buford on the football field has loomed.

Brackets were filled, playoff opponents bested and tonight, almost a year since the two programs first met, all of the hype will be put to rest.

The Wolves of Buford take on the Wolves of Rome in a rematch of last year’s Class 5A state championship game tonight at Barron Stadium. This time it’s for a chance at returning to the title game next week.

And Rome’s players feel they couldn’t be more ready.

“Everyone is always ready every week, but this week there’s something special going on with our group,” Rome quarterback Knox Kadum said. “As a unit, we are just ready to go. We can’t wait to play Buford. And to have them in the semifinals and at our stadium? It’s incredible.”

It’s a feeling that’s been building since last December, when Rome took down Buford 16-7 in the state title game. And it’s built with every Rome win this season.

Rome (13-0) enters the game with a 25-game winning streak, now the second longest active streak in the state of Georgia. It also carries a 20-game winning streak at Barron Stadium, dating back to head coach John Reid’s first year in 2015.

Few things would please Buford more than to end those streaks. These two teams have a shared history now, and it appears it was inevitable for them to play each other again.

“Last season we had never played Buford and it was this traditional power. Now it is leaning toward sort of a rivalry,” Reid said. “You could kind of feel we were destined to play each other if we each did our job, and it’s here.”

Rome and Buford have been seen by many as the top two teams in Class 5A since the start of the season, and both units have lived up to expectations pretty well.

Each team boasts an average margin of victory of more than 35 points and has five shutout victories this season. And just like Rome, Buford is known for punishing opponents with a multitude of talented running threats.

Buford (11-1) has three different backs, Anthony Grant, Christian Turner and Derrian Brown, each recording at least 800 rushing yards this season. Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Aaron McLaughlin has thrown for 1,713 passing yards and 16 touchdowns.

Tonight they will be up against a Rome defense allowing 10.3 points per game and held Buford to just 112 total yards last year in the Georgia Dome.

“There’s certainly excitement because they have a big offensive line. It was a challenge last year,” Rome defensive lineman Jamarcus Chatman said. “But we ain’t going to play different just because it is Buford or anything. We are just going to keep grinding and play.”

Ready to face Buford’s own bruising defense is a Rome offense built upon just as much versatility. The trio of Kadum, Jamious Griffin and Jalynn Sykes has been a strong foundation for the Wolves’ running game.

Griffin has more than 1,100 yards and 27 touchdowns to lead the way, while Sykes has 926 yards and 14 scores and Kadum has 521 for eight. Kadum has thrown for 1,849 yards and 20 touchdowns this season.

“I think there’s more excitement this week than there was last year leading up to Stockbridge, mostly because of what happened in the state championship,” Kadum said. “Everyone knows it is a rematch, a big game. It’s bigger than any other team that could be coming in here.”