There’s much about Buford and Rome, the finalists in Class AAAAA, that are similar.
They have both earned reputations for fielding a hard-hitting, aggressive defense. Neither Buford nor Rome tends to play it soft and loose on the field. Opponents have the bruises to back it up.
They both operate out of a run-first mindset, a rarity in today’s high school game, but certainly warranted in each case. Both Buford and Rome boast a pair of 1,000-yard running backs in the lineup.
And while both teams prefer to run the ball, each one is more than capable to throwing it. Both teams have exceptional quarterbacks who can make the right decision, deliver an accurate pass and not panic under pressure.
The only discernable difference is in the pedigree. No. 1 Buford (13-1) has won 11 state championships. No. 4 Rome (12-2) is looking for its first title since the school was created in 1992 from the merger of East Rome and West Rome.
“Once you get this far, you know every team is going to be good,” Rome coach John Reid said. “For us they’re the next opponent in the playoff. We’ll see what we can do.”
Teams have grown and improved since the season began. Buford is a much better team than the one that lost to Roswell in the opener. Rome is much better than it was when it lost two of its first three games.
“Everybody is a different team than when they started,” Reid said. “I think everyone is a different team than when they started the playoffs. That was five weeks ago. That’s half a season, so you’re going to be different.”
Buford: The offense features junior running backs Christian Turner, who has amassed nearly 400 yards over the last two games, and Anthony Grant, who has rushed for 1,447 yards. Turner is finally healthy after battling a high ankle sprain for most of the season. Grant, also a standout on defense, is expected to be healthier after being limited by a stinger last week.
“It feels great to go back to the Dome,” Turner said. “Not many teams can say that.”
Grant said, “When you to get to the playoffs you’ve got to focus. We’ve got to keep the momentum going.”
Quarterback Mic Roof (East Carolina commitment) and the backs benefit from a strong offensive lined led by Tyler Thurmond (West Virginia), Dean Powell (Army) and Connor Mills (East Carolina).
The defense is led by linebackers T.D. Roof (Georgia Tech) and Jake Simpson (Wake Forest) and defensive backs K.J. Anderson (Western Michigan) and Joshua Blackwell (Duke).
Rome: The Wolves average 293.7 yards on the ground. Jamious Griffin has run for 1,418 yards and Jalynn Sykes has rushed for 1,092 yards, but been injured the last three weeks. Quarterback Knox Kadum doesn’t play like a sophomore; he’s thrown for 1,731 yards and 16 touchdowns, with only four interceptions.
The defense is loaded. Linebacker/end Adam Anderson (Georgia) and linebacker Jaylen Griffin (Virginia Tech) are a couple of romper stompers who drew national offers. End Jamarcus Chatman is on the short list for top junior prospects in Georgia.