Last Friday night, former Rome High quarterback Brian Watters was filled with joy as he watched the Wolves dominate Buford 45-7 to reach a second straigh state championship game.
And as word spread that the Wolves would face Warner Robins for the title, different yet familiar memories swept over him. They were memories of remorse, of sitting on the field still in shock that an undefeated season had ended.
Rome’s 2004 game against Warner Robins, a 35-32 quarterfinal loss, is something that still haunts Watters to this day. And he knows he is not the only one.
“I went on to Central Florida, where I was part of two conference championships and a bowl win,” Watters said. “But more than any other game I’ve ever played, that is the one I cannot stop thinking about to this day.”
While only a quarterfinal game, the matchup draws parallels to Friday’s state title game. The 2004 Wolves were the last Rome team to go 10-0 in the regular season before this year’s squad accomplished the feat, and 2004 is the last time Warner Robins won a state championship.
Former Rome coach David Humphreys remembers the 2004 team fondly. It was the final one in his tenure at Rome. The Wolves won all but one game by double digits in the regular season, and they allowed just 6.8 points per game entering the quarterfinals.
It was all part of an upswing for the program that began even before Humphreys became head coach. The defense had been stout for years, but he began to see the offense come into its own.
“One thing I’ve always done is I’ve never talked about our opponents,” Humphreys said. “We always talked about us. We never cared who we played. We always felt if we played well it didn’t matter who we face.”
Rome fell into a hole to begin the game, with a botched punt helping the Demons take a 14-0 lead. The Wolves eventually trailed 28-10 entering the fourth quarter, before Watters went to work through the air.
In one of the best games of his career, the junior went 17-of-28 for 194 yards and ran for 72 yards. He led three touchdown drives in the fourth, cutting the Warner Robins lead to three points late in the game.
But on a third-and-3 with a minute left, the Demons converted and were able to run out the clock. It’s one of the few plays Humphreys still consistently thinks about.
“We felt like that spot on the third down was a bit questionable, but that’s one of those debatable things,” Humphreys said. “There was a huge pile, and I’m sure both coaches believed the play should’ve gone their way.”
After the win, Warner Robbins won its semifinal against Ware County 40-0 and beat Statesboro in the state title game 34-13. In the team’s five playoff games that season, Rome was the only one to come within 12 points of defeating the Demons.
Both Watters and Humphreys are back in Rome, and both have attended as many games at Barron Stadium as possible the past two seasons. While both have played or coached for different schools, there is still a deep pride for Rome.
And when it was announced the Wolves would play Warner Robins on Friday, a chord was struck in both of them. They both plan to attend the game, hoping this season’s Rome team can get some revenge.
“I will be there front and center, and I’m going to be getting down there early,” Watters said. “I know it might be cold and rainy, but I want to get down there and tailgate a little before. Then I’m going to cheer on these boys like never before.”