The Rome High Wolves rampaged their way into the second round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs with a 35-14 win over the Habersham Central Raiders on Friday night at Barron Stadium.
Rome scored two of their five touchdowns on single-play drives, and the Wolves defense recorded four turnovers on the night, including a game-sealing interception late in the fourth quarter.
Rome’s offensive leaders shined, as senior running back EJ Lackey piled up about 184 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries, and freshman quarterback Reece Fountain went 14-of-17 for 206 yards and two touchdowns on the night. Freshman wide receiver DeKaylon Daniel and sophomore wide receiver Martel Hight grabbed the two touchdown passes.
“I know we are one of the 16 best teams in the state, because there are only 16 of use left,” Rome Coach Jon Reid told his team after the game.
Reid lauded the visiting team and their players and said his team played a complete game to earn the win.
The Wolves sparked things off early, with Lackey taking a hand off on the first play of the game and breaking right before running a 68-yard touchdown. Fernando Lopez-Romero, who was perfect on his extra point attempts for the night, booted through the kick to give Rome the early 7-0 lead.
The teams would trade punts before the Raiders began moving the ball on their second possession. HC quarterback Joshua Pickett converted a fourth down try on the possession, and then a few plays later scrambled in from 12 yards out for the score. The extra point knotted things at 7-7.
Rome’s defense rose to the occasion, stepping up big and forcing a fumble, which was recovered by defensive back Jameion Leath, giving the home team the ball back on their own 41-yard line.
One play later, the Wolves struck again, this time on a 59-yard touchdown pass from Fountain to Daniel. The pass looked to split two defenders, who met up to lay a simultaneous hit on Daniel, but he stumbled away from the collision and kept his feet to find the end zone.
The extra point gave Rome the 14-7 lead near the end of the first quarter.
Rome’s defense knocked loose another fumble on the next Raider possession, and senior linebacker Omarion Peugh recovered the ball for the Wolves.
A Rome three-and-out gave Habersham Central the ball back on their own 12 yard line, and they spent a large portion of the second quarter eating clock as they moved down the field only to fail to convert a fourth-and-3 from the Rome 37-yard line.
The Wolves took advantage of the opportunity and put together a long drive of their own, one that ultimately came down to a fourth-and-8 try from the Raider 36-yard line.
On that play, the Wolves ran what initially appeared to be a reverse, but the second runner then tossed the ball backward to Fountain, who then completed a 34-yard rocket to Jay Wise, who was then bumped out at the 2-yard line.
Lackey rammed in the next score, and the extra point extended the score to 21-7.
The Raiders had about 52 seconds to work with after the kickoff, but a big sack by Rome defensive lineman Bryant Wilkinson ended their hopes for the half.
Habersham Central opened up the third quarter with a promising drive before Rome defensive back Bryson Hill grabbed an interception to give his team the ball back at their own 15-yard line.
The teams then swapped out long, time consuming drives that resulted in no points, first with Rome punting from midfield after a few first downs, then a Raider three and out that was followed by a long Rome drive that ended with a missed field goal.
About midway through the fourth quarter the Raiders scored again, this time on a first play, 80-yard touchdown run by Pickett. The extra point shorted the lead to 21-14.
Rome answered quickly through, with Fountain connecting with Hight for a 59-yard score.
A few possessions later, Lackey carried the ball five straight times before driving in the final score from seven yards ago and, with the extra point, setting the final score at 35-14.