In a meeting of two powerhouses that have had to redefine themselves this season, Rome High once again will hit the road to take on Warner Robins in the Class 5A state playoffs.
And this time the No. 3 Wolves are hoping to get the edge and deliver the knock-out punch to the Demons.
Friday’s second-round matchup will mark the third straight season the Wolves have had to travel to face the No. 2 Demons at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.
“It’s a task for us to do that three years in a row, to go down there,” Rome High head coach John Reid said. “But we’ll be ready when we get down there. We’ve got a great plan. We’ll play as hard as we possibly can and try to advance to the final eight. That’s what’s exciting about it.”
Reid said the Wolves (9-2) and the Demons share some similarities after both squads lost key players last season. With former Warner Robins quarterback Dylan Fromm now at Mercer, the Demons (10-1) have shifted to more of a run-first offense led by Jahlen Rutherford, who is nearing 1,000 yards rushing on the season.
“We’re a lot alike in as much that we’re the same type of team,” Reid said. “They’re good on defense, good on special teams, good on offense. The quarterback is more of a runner and the offense isn’t such a quick passing game as it was, but they will strike you downfield, and they run the football better.”
The Wolves are also a different looking team than the last squad the Demons faced. With the departure of a trio of offensive weapons in Knox Kadum, Jamious Griffin and Xavier Roberts-Donaldson, the Wolves have still managed to be a force on the that side of the ball.
Rome’s offensive power was most recently showcased in a 52-0 win over Lithonia in the first round of the playoffs, during which Ahijah Blackwell rushed for 211 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries.
Blackwell has come into his own during his senior season, taking over the main portion of the running game and accumulating 1,442 yards and 21 touchdowns. He’s also had help from EJ Burks, who has 17 touchdowns on the year.
The Wolves’ defense, led by seniors Nick Burge, Simon Nguygen and Tim Jones, is also stingier than last year’s squad as Rome has allowed only 11.6 points per game this season, to 14.6 points per game in 2018.
Two seasons ago, the Wolves blanked Warner Robins 38-0 to win their second straight state championships. This past season, the Demons were able to get some revenge as Warner Robins ousted Rome from the playoffs with a 45-28 defeat in the semifinals.
Reid said it’s difficult to speculate how the game will play out.
“They have some good players, and we have some good players,” Reid said. “It’s kind of hard to tell. Two years ago, they were scoring 35 to 40 points a game and we shut them out. Last year, we put the ball on the ground a couple times, so it’ll come down to special teams, taking care of the ball and turnovers.”
While Reid said the upcoming weeks in the playoffs are something to look forward to, he’s keeping his focus on Friday’s contest.
“It’s an exciting time of the year,” Reid said. “The energy level is good. The second round is a good round of football in Georgia. If you can get through these next two weeks, everybody gets super fired up because you’re in the Final Four, so we’ll see what happens. We just want to be in the final eight.”