After his team had racked up more than 50 points on a region champion in less than three quarters, Rome coach John Reid made a familiar decision last Friday night.
Most of the Wolves’ starters came off the field at Starr’s Mill as the second team played with a running clock in the fourth.
Following the 59-10 quarterfinal win, Reid warned his players that while he loved the performance, the likelihood of them being able to coast in the final quarter of their semifinal bout against Buford was slim.
The takeaway is Rome’s first teams are going to have to play all four quarters sooner or later, and it’s going to be ready when that game comes.
“They’re ready for it, and it all begins in practice,” Reid said. “I don’t know if they will win or lose, but these guys are prepared for a four-quarter game because these kids know a close game can happen any week.”
The last time No. 1 Rome (13-0) led by less than 20 points entering a fourth quarter was two months ago in its 45-24 win over Carrollton.
The Wolves have led by more than 40 points entering the final quarter in each of their three playoff games.
No. 2 Buford (11-1) had its mettle tested last week, as Stockbridge took it down to the fourth quarter before a field goal gave Buford the 20-17 win.
Even when the starters go to the bench, Rome continues to roll. Backup quarterback Stepheno Alston has tallied three touchdowns this year, while running back Nick Burge has scored two times, including one last week against Starr’s Mill.
Despite this dominance, every Rome player and coach knows a close game could be right around the corner.
Junior quarterback Knox Kadum knows this, recalling the close games Rome played earlier in the year against top-10 opponents Carrollton, Kell and Harrison.
But even more recently, the Wolves have been training for tight situations in practice.
“Every Wednesday, we always do a drill called ‘two minutes,’” Kadum said. “Coach gives us a scenario, down six or eight points with two minutes left or something, and we have to drive 80 yards and get a touchdown. So we’re always being put in situations like that.”
Buford has been a close opponent before of course, with Rome defeating the Region 8-5A champions 16-7 in the 2016 Class 5A state championship game last season.
It’s the last time Rome trailed at halftime and the second-closest win in its 25-game winning streak.
But at this point in the postseason, Reid expects almost any opponent Rome plays to give his team a complete effort.
And if the time comes where he has to keep his starters in the game through the fourth quarter, Reid has no doubt in their abilities.
“We’ve been ready for a four-quarter game for 13 straight weeks. We are always prepared for it,” Reid said. “No matter the opponent, that’s just how we prepare.”