Yes, Rome coach John Reid would like nothing more than to see his team get back in the state championship game. But -- he has reminded everyone associated with the program – that can’t happen this week.
“Our goal right now is to get to the final eight,” Reid said. “We’ve got to make the kids understand that. We can’t make the finals this week. We’ve got focus on this week’s game.”
Rome hosts Southwest DeKalb on Friday in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs. Reid is emphasizing to his players, parents and community supporters that this week’s game is the most important one – not a potential third-round matchup with Bainbridge or Starr’s Mill nor a possible semifinal game against Stockbridge or Buford.
Rome beat Cedar Shoals 63-13 in the first round of the playoffs last week. The Wolves (11-0) should have a more difficult time against Southwest DeKalb (8-3), the runner-up from Region 5.
SWD beat Banneker 35-17 in the first round for its first playoff win since 2009. Quarterback Justin Tomlin returned after missing two games and threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another. Tomlin has 23 touchdowns (16 passing, seven rushing) and tailback Francisco Hunter was DeKalb County’s leading rusher with 1,623 yards.
“(Tomlin) has a good arm and is lightning fast,” Reid said. “He has a great ability to extend the play. It’s difficult to keep him at bay.”
Winner plays: Winner Bainbridge-Starr's Mill.
Bainbridge (8-3) at Starr’s Mill (10-1): This should be a high-scoring affair between a pair of teams who average 37 points. Bainbridge running back Dameon Pierce (1,922 yards rushing) could be the key to the game. The only teams that have stopped Bainbridge have been Warner Robins (six points in the season finale) and Lee County, the No. 3-ranked team in Class AAAAAA. Starr’s Mill continues to effectively run the option and averages 325 yards per game on the ground. Winner plays: Winner Rome-SW DeKalb.
Maynard Jackson (9-2) at Buford (9-1): Jackson’s defense has been pretty stiff the last five weeks, when they’ve posted three shutouts and allowed a combined 13 points. That will be a tall order against No. 2 Buford, which averages 47 points and has scored at least 49 in five of its last six games. The Wolves have some incredible depth at running back, including Anthony Grant (Tennessee), Christian Turner (Michigan) and Derrian Brown. Jackson quarterback Roderick Hammond has thrown for 1,650 yards and 15 touchdowns. Winner plays: Winner Ware County-Stockbridge.
Ware County (5-5) at Stockbridge (11-0): No. 3 Stockbridge may have the best defense in the state. Brenton Cox leads a group that has allowed only 64 points. That aspect has overshadowed an offense that has steadily improved and has scored 33 or more in six of its last eight games. Quarterback Gabe McKenzie has grown into the role and taken advantage of Marquez Ezzard, a big-time recruit who last week de-committed to FSU. Ware County may be the best .500 team in the state. The Gators lost their first four games to teams from higher classifications, three of them to teams ranked in the top five. Ware will try to run the ball behind back Raja Bradley (1,196 yards) and reach the quarterfinals for the seventh time in eight years.Winner plays: Winner Buford-Maynard Jackson.
Carrollton (9-2) vs. Arabia Mountain (9-2) at Hallford Stadium: A win for Arabia Mountain would be the most significant in school history. The Rams are led by quarterback Bryson Williams, who threw for 198 yards and three touchdowns, and running back Joshua Campbell, who ran for 107 yards and one touchdown, in last week’s win over Banneker. Carrollton’s chances may be enhanced by the possible return of quarterback Mark Wright, who has been out with a separated shoulder. Running back Jaylan Thomas (1,335 yards) has been consistently strong all season. Winner plays: Winner Eagle's Landing-Warner Robins.
Eagle’s Landing (7-4) at Warner Robins (11-0): The Golden Eagles are treading new ground this week and will be playing in the second round for the first time. Eagle’s Landing will need a big game from quarterback Cameron Lewis, who threw for 212 yards and ran for 91 in the win over Whitewater. Warner Robins has rolled through the season behind quarterback Dylan Fromm, who has thrown for 2,649 yards. The Demons have a richer football tradition, but haven’t reached the quarterfinals since 2013. Winner plays: :Winner Carrollton-Arabia Mountain.
Flowery Branch (9-2) at Carver, Atlanta (10-1): Flowery Branch has faced some pretty good offenses the last three weeks, succeeding against Clarke Central and Kell (both those opponents scored 14) and coming up short against Buford (42 points). The Falcons will have their hands full again this week against a multi-faceted Carver offense that features an outstanding quarterback in Octavious Battle (2,617 yards passing), running back Jo’Quavious Marks (1,629 yards rushing) and receiver Quindarius Monday (833 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns). Winner plays: Winner Jones County-Wayne County.
Jones County (10-1) at Wayne County (9-1): There should be some offensive fireworks in this game. Jones County, operating its spread offense, has breakaway threats in quarterback Teldrick Ross, who has thrown and run for 1,000 yards, and tailback Drake Bolus, who has rushed for 1,131 yards. The question mark is the health of Wayne County quarterback Garrett Overhold, who injured his hand in the first quarter of last week’s win over Thomas County Central. Winner plays: Winner Flowery Branch-Carver.