The Class AAAAA championship game between Rome and Buford was the second-best contest of the final weekend at the Georgia Dome. (Sorry, but the Grayson-Roswell game in the big-school finale was one for the ages.)
Here’s what we learned about Rome:
- Coach John Reid and his staff have created the sort of winning atmosphere that the program has lacked. They were able to get the players to buy into the idea of working hard in the weight room, playing together and expecting big results. It led to a state championship.
- Defense still wins football games. The Wolves were big and physical up front. They gave Buford a little bit of what Buford has been giving to everybody else in the state. By the end of the title game, the Buford guys were physically spent.
- The next-man-up philosophy can work – if you’ve got the right people. Rome lost two 1,000-yard rushers and still won the state championships. They were running a ninth grader at tailback for most of the second half of the title game.
- Quarterback Knox Kadum is a winner. Not the biggest. Not the fastest (although he looked pretty fast on those two touchdown runs). This guy knows how to win.
Here’s what we learned about Buford:
- The Wolves just keep winning. They keep trying to find ways to push them up into high classifications to neutralize them, but it doesn’t matter. All they do is win. (Maybe there’s a song in there?)
- Leadership still matters. These Wolves are loaded with leaders like Jake Simpson throughout the roster. They were able to keep their teammates focused through tough times and a variety of injuries.
- Linebacker T.D. Roof is a romper stomper. He’s not really that big (5-11, 200), but this guy can play. His motor knows only one speed and as a result, he makes play after play. Even when they stick him in the backfield and you know he’s going to get the ball, he finds the hole and gets the yardage.
- What a backfield for 2017, eh? Go ahead and find two better running backs than Buford will have next year in Anthony Grant and Christian Turner. You can’t do it. Both are big-time, game-breaking runners.
Here’s what else we learned about Class AAAAA this season ….
Too many undeserving playoff teams: Class AAAAA may have been impacted more than any other by the decision to go to eight classifications. The result was a top-heavy division and bevy of mediocre-to-bad teams that made the playoffs. Of the 48 playoff teams, six had losing records and four finished 5-5. Nine of them lost in the first round. The average margin in those nine games was 26.6 points. Is that really necessary?
Tylan Morton made it look easy: The Griffin quarterback set a state record for most passing yards in a single season. Morton threw for 4,741 yards and 42 touchdowns. He beat the record of Lassiter’s Hutson Mason by 181 yards. Morton is a definite contender for Player of the Year honors.
Cailyn has a brother? Someone said Cailyn Newton’s brother played quarterback, but can he possibly be as good? Cailyn threw for more than 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns and ran for 904 yard and 12 touchdowns. He helped carry Grady to the Region 6 championship and a 10-2 season. Newton is another contender to be Player of the Year.
Strongest region: There was little doubt that Region 7 was the most difficult league in the state. Rome (state champion), Kell (semifinalist) and Carrollton (quarterfinalist) were all top-10 teams. Each had to face mighty Buford in the playoffs, with Carrollton and Kell each pushing the Wolves to the limit before Rome was able to score the win.
Weakest region: Region 2 had one team with a winning record and Ware County was excellent. But three teams made the playoffs with losing records and South Effingham made the playoffs with a 1-9 regular-season record.
Toughest break: Thomas County Central appeared to have the talent to make a run at another state championship. But the Yellow Jackets were sidetracked when quarterback Kelias Williams went down with a season-ending knee injury. TCC fought through it and still finished first in Region 1 and won its first-round playoff game.
Biggest surprise: Statesboro failed to win a game. It was the first time the proud program has gone winless. The Blue Devils are 4-26 over the last three seasons since going 10-2 in 2013. Veteran coach Steve Pennington, who took Statesboro to the championship in 2005, retired after a 29-year career that included stops at Louisville, Appling County, Ware County and 13 seasons at Statesboro.
Back in business: It looks like the Carrollton football program is back in the business of contending for titles. First-year coach Sean Calhoun did a masterful job of getting Trojan Nation back on the same page. They had Buford on the ropes in the quarterfinals but the Wolves had too much veteran mojo. Carrollton is back is will be among the teams to beat in 2016.
On the rise: Woodland made the playoffs for the first time and won a couple of playoff games before bowing out in the quarterfinals. The Wolfpack grew from its early season trip to Valdosta (even though they were blasted 51-12) and suffered only one other regular-season loss, that coming to Henry County King Stockbridge. There is no question that coach Steve Davenport has this program on the right track.