Friday night's Class AAAAA semifinal at Rome's Historic Barron Stadium was the long-awaited rematch of the home team's 16-7 win over Buford in last year’s state finals. The result was Buford’s worst defeat since a 44-point loss to Duluth (44 years ago) and Rome's 26th straight victory.
Buford deferred after winning the toss and Rome marched right down the field with seven straight running plays that were shared by five different ball carriers. On a third-and-2 from the 8-yard line, junior quarterback Knox Kadum faked the handoff and hit Xavier Roberts for a play-action touchdown pass to cap off a flawless 8-play, 78-yard Rome scoring drive.
Kicker Emmanuel Gonzalez missed a 49-yard field-goal attempt late in the first quarter, but connected from 32 yards early in the second frame to push Rome's lead to 10-0. Buford got on the board with 8:17 left in the half on an Aaron McLaughlin quarterback keeper that cut it to 10-7. The touchdown came off a Rome bobbled snap that was fumbled in a pile of jerseys and recovered by Buford's K.J. Johnson. Buford only managed three more first downs and got outscored 35-0 from that point.
Kadum padded the lead before the half to 17-7 with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Roberts. Rome ran 47 offensive snaps in the first half to Buford’s 19 and outgained the visiting Wolves 235-to-72 in total yardage. Things would only get more difficult in the second half for Buford, as Rome added 272 yards and held Buford to just 30 yards.
“I’m always working on the next thing, so when we beat them last year I was already thinking, 'We’re going to have to play these guys again," said Rome head coach John Reid. "It was always in the back of my mind, in about 365 days we’re going to have to beat them again.”
Buford lost 7 yards on its first possession of the second half, and Rome received the punt near midfield before scoring two plays later on a 50-yard keeper by Kadum. Jamious Griffin added to the lead with 2:15 left in the third quarter with a 15-yard touchdown run to put Rome up 31-7.
The fourth quarter was more of the same. Kadum made the right decision on a read option and gashed the Buford defense for a 32-yard touchdown run to make it 38-7 with 8:24 left. After another Buford punt, Rome picked up a pair of first downs, and with the victory assured, Kadum was taken out of the game with 4:30 still left on the clock. With the backups in, Nick Burge added the game’s final touchdown on a 23-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-2.
“I don’t know if I slept all week," Reid said. "Buford is so good, but our kids just did such a great job. They pressured their quarterback, wouldn’t let them run the ball. I don’t know how they did it, but our players just kept getting after Buford and didn't stop. We dominated on defense and offense and that is hard to do against a team like Buford.”