No. 1 Buford and No. 4 Rome will play for the championship on Friday at 4:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome. It will mark the first time that Rome has played for the title since the school was created in 1992. It will be the first time Buford played for the title in 365 days, but will mark their first appearance in the Class AAAAA championship game.
Rome outlasted No. 2 Stockbridge 28-21, while Buford finally turned away No. 5 Kell 28-16 to reach the final.
“I just don’t think our kids got a quit in them and that’s why our kids are going to the champions,” Rome coach John Reid told the Rome News-Tribune. “This was a game unlike what we’ve seen in 10 weeks and that worried me, but these kids responded.”
Rome (12-2) has won 11 straight games since a 33-30 loss to Kell. The Wolves handed Stockbridge its first loss and denied the Tigers their first trip to the championship game.
Rome quarterback Knox Kadum threw for 152 yards and one touchdown and Jamious Griffin rushed 31 times for 154 yards and three touchdowns. Griffin scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on a 14-yard run with 6:40 left.
Stockbridge (13-1) got all three of its scores on passes from Kenderick Duncan to Marquez Ezzard. The two connected nine times for 201 yards. But Rome shut down the Stockbridge running game, holding the Tigers to 75 yards.
Buford (13-1) controlled the game against Kell; the Wolves ran 61 plays, Kell ran 48. Buford was able to run huge chunks of time off the clock by pounding the ball on the ground behind Christian Turner (12 carries for 139 yards) and Adrian Grant (10 carries, 58 yards), with T.D. Roof picking up three fourth-down conversions with runs. Roof ran nine times for 114 yards and two touchdowns, the most important a 59-yarder that provided some separation.
But Kell (11-3) never quit or backed down and took advantage of every Buford mistake in order to hang close. The Longhorns scored their first touchdown after a poor snap on a punt gave them the ball at the 27 with 32 seconds left in the half. Quarterback John Lampley connected with Josh Blancato over the middle for a touchdown on the next play.
Kell availed itself of a short field on another shallow Buford kickoff and went on an impressive drive to score with 3:22 left on a pass from Lampley to Jared Hill. That drive required 10 of Kell’s 41 offensive plays. The Longhorns had gone three-and-out or made one first down before punting on seven previous possessions.
“Our kids just keep hanging in there. It doesn’t matter who gets hurt or who makes a mistakes,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “They just keep playing. They just keep believing.”
It sounds like both teams are ready to meet each other in the Dome next week.
“We know whoever we face is going to be a good team,” Buford running back Christian Turner said. “We’re just excited to be going back.”
Reid said, “Buford is a great team and has a great tradition. But we’ll get ready for them and our kids will give everything they’ve got. We want to try and win a championship.”