The Rome Wolves won the state football championship on Friday night at the Georgia Dome. That’s when they were handed the trophy by the Georgia High School Association. But they didn’t win it all one night. It has been a gradual process that began last spring.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Knox Kadum, the sophomore quarterback who came up big in so many key situations in the 16-7 win over Buford. “Our team set a goal in April and said this is what we wanted. Our coaches made a plan for it and they’ve worked 180 days or more in a row. They haven’t had a day off since July 4 and we’re grateful for them.”
After going 8-4 last year and getting a sense of what was possible, the Wolves were fully invested in the plan set out by coach John Reid and his group of assistants. It all began with the no-nonsense approach in the weight room. The Rome players bought in and never swayed, despite a 1-2 start to the season and even though the team went through a series of injuries that might have been devastating to most clubs.
"That’s the kind of kids we’ve got. We don’t make excuses around here," Reid said. "We put the next guy out there and he’s expected to get the job done because we expect that at practice every day."
Kadum was remarkable in the championship game. He is much quicker than he appears at first glance and his instincts are off the board. He completed only 6 of 20 passes for 82 yards, but avoided Buford’s pressure and was never sacked.
Kadum was especially good with the run. He carried eight times, some on scrambles and some on designed plays, and picked up 125 yards and two touchdowns.
“Our line and our receivers did a great job,” Kadum said. “Whether it was pass protection or run protection, they made holes and I just ran through them. If it was a designed run, they had a big hole for me.”
The first touchdown put Rome ahead. It came on a 28-yard run that Kadum took up the middle and just beat the Buford defender to the end zone.
“That was exciting,” Kadum said. “On the first one, we saw something, the line blocked in great and (slot back) Xavier Roberts got a great block on the safety. It was an easy run.”
That run put Rome ahead 10-7 early in the third quarter. The second run came late in the game and put the nails in the coffin. On fourth-and-inches at the 18, Kadum faked a dive to the back and ran untouched around the left end and into the endzone.
“We were going power and saw what they did when we froze before the time out,” Kadum said. “They were walking the backside dog up, so we read him and it was wide open. Jordan (Watkins, wide receiver) made a great block on the corner and it was an easy walk-in touchdown.”
The Rome defense more than lived up to its billing. The front four refused to let the speedy Buford backs break through for big yardage. Ja’Quon Griffin had eight tackles, including two sacks, and Adam Anderson had six tackles and a sack.
"We did a ton of film study," John Reid said. "We did a ton of preparation. Our coaches, the scout team really prepared. They did some different things, like we thought they would. Thought we'd make them pass the ball and they had some success with it, But they also got wore out. We just kept pressuring them."
In the end Rome was able to claim its first championship since the school was created in 1992.
“When you work as hard as we do, it’s special,” Reid said “It’s a tremendous reward for an outstanding effort by everybody. To say you’re state champions from the state of Georgia – against a team like that. Our kids played a tremendous game.”