Warner Robins – John Reid was answering questions, and suddenly, he was surrounded by his team.
He kept turning around to those players, smiles on their faces and twinkles in their eyes, clearly in this situation not trusting his team.
“I trust them for everything,” the Rome head coach said, “but water on my back.”
Alas, all the Wolves did was lift their head coach onto the shoulders while he held aloft the trophy as GHSA Class AAAAA championships after dismantling Warner Robins 38-0 Friday night before an overflow crowd at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.
A brawl broke out during the handshake line between the teams, lasting less than two minutes and with a few hundred fans on the field. Nobody appeared injured, and the trophy presentations were muted, quietly given to each head coach far from the middle of the field.
Both sides were chippy during the game after a week some sniping back and forth, in part because of comments from GHSA president and Floyd County Board of Education employee Glenn White saying in a radio interview that he wondered if Warner Robins could host a game of this magnitude.
He said that as part of a conversation regarding the postponement of six title games from Mercedes-Benz Stadium because of weather issues, and said he wasn’t sure how many facilities in the state were properly equipped for a big-school state championship.
“Now, I would say that with almost any venue right now, and that’s why we’ve gone to … the Georgia Dome and now with Mercedes-Benz Stadium.”
But many in Warner Robins didn’t catch that part and took it as a slight from a GHSA representative, and both sides expressed themselves on social media, and the intensity of the game between teams that hadn’t played only once, during Warner Robins’ title run in 2004, grew during the week.
He also apparently upset some by saying he wished Rome had won the coin toss to host the finale, and admitted he was pulling for the school in his county.
As it turned, the location may not have mattered.
“You’ve got to recognize the fact that these kids have been on the road almost 200 miles,” said Reid, whose team stayed in Byron Thursday night. “This is a tough environment to come in and win a state championship on against an undefeated team.”
Reid was fairly stunned with how things played out, playing in a state title game with a running clock.
“Never would have imagined,” he said after the program’s 27th straight win and second consecutive state title. “Never would have imagined.
“We played against a very, very good team, an undefeated team that had beaten some very good (teams). This team beat teams that are playing for state championships.”
Reid said the plan was fairly simple, but there was an emphasis on the defense and a dandy front four putting as much pressure on Warner Robins quarterback Dylan Fromm as possible.
“I thought our defense did a great job taking them out of their offense. I don’t know what they had on offense, but it wasn’t much.”
The Demons were held to three yards on the ground and 97 through the air, 20 coming late with backups in. Quarterback Dylan Fromm was under pressure all night en route to a 10-for-25 night, a pick-6, and 77 yards.
Warner Robins head coach Mike Chastain said during the week, paraphrasing the line of the late NFL head coach Dennis Green, that Rome is what you think the Wolves are, and they played to his scouting report.
His Demons didn’t play to theirs.
“We played a really good team tonight,” said Chastain, whose team finishes at 14-1 after going 3-8 in his first season in 2016. “We didn’t make plays, we turned the ball over.
“We got a really good football team and the guys played really good all year. We just didn’t come to play tonight. We’ve just got to go to work and keep grinding.”
The stadium was full a solid 30 minutes before kickoff, with fans still entering after the game started.
They watched Rome exert some will on offense with a 15-play drive that ended with three tries at a field goal, the first two erased by penalties.
The Wolves, however, were short on the 34-yard try, but had eaten up more than half of the quarter. But the Demons used up 16 seconds on three incomplete passes.
Warner Robins’ defense regrouped and held Rome on a fourth and 5 from the Demons’ 32, getting an incomplete pass.
The Demons seemed to find themselves on offense and started moving. They got to the Wolves’ 45, lost five on a penalty, got nine back, threw incomplete, and then Fromm’s pass got away from him and was snagged at the 21 by Trai Hodges.
He went down the left side and had blocking to carry it 79 yards for the score. Emanuel Gonzalez’ PAT was good for a 7-0 lead 23 seconds into the second quarter.
Again, the Demons moved the ball, sparked by a 19-yard flare pass to Jarius Burnette to get into Wolves territory again. But Fromm lost nine on a sack from T.J. Camack, Jamarcus Chatman and Adam Anderson, and Warner Robins had to punt again.
Rome mounted a nifty drive from its 21, getting 16 on third-and-7 pass from Knox Kadum to Xavier Roberts, then 20 from Roberts on a jet sweep. Griffin finished it with a 7-yard run around right end, and Gonzalez made it 14-o with 7:07 left in the half.
Rome then recovered a muffed pooch kick and took over on the Demons’ 28. The Wolves needed three plays to cover the distance, getting nine when the Warner Robins defense whiffed on Griffin, who fumbled a direct snap.
Kadum’s pass to an open Roberts was perfect for a 17-yard score, and the kick made it 21-0 halfway through the second quarter.
Rome went for the knockout punch after a three-and-out highlighted by a holding penalty forced a Warner Robins punt. The Wolves moved nicely from their 20 to the Demons 20, only for a pass to be deflected and then intercepted by Jabari Miller inside the final minute.
Rome ran 41 plays in the first half for 252 yards to 22 plays and 61 yard for Warner Robins.
The Demons got the ball to start the third quarter, and went three and out in less than a minute. Rome made them pay with a 10-play scoring drive with four different Wolves carrying the ball, Kadum keeping up the middle for 13 on third and goal. That made it 28-0 with 5:54 remaining in the third quarter.
“We knew we were coming out on defense,” Reid said. “When we came out, we wanted to get really fired up and try to get them three and out. When we three-and-out and scored, I thought they were probably going to be in trouble.”
Warner Robins got a first down on a pass only to fumble on the play, setting up a late third-quarter field goal that started the running clock for the fourth quarter. Then the Demons coughed it up in the end zone two possessions later after being pinned deep by a punt.
The Wolves threw only one second-half pass. Kadum finished with 68 rushing yards and 76 passing yards as Rome set the state record for points with 758.
“I told the kids, whether we get in a low-scoring game or a high-scoring game, whatever, if we can keep playing hard, we can come out on top,” Reid said. “We had no idea that we’d be that dominant in a state championship. A running clock.”
ROME 38, WARNER ROBINS 0
Rome 0 21 10 7 -38
Warner Robins 0 0 0 0 – 0
R – Trai Hodges 79 interception return (Emanuel Gonzalez kick)
R – Jamious Griffin 7 run (Gonzalez kick)
R – Xavier Roberts 17 pass from Knox Kadum (Gonzalez kick)
R – Knox Kadum 13 run (Gonzalez kick)
R – Gonzalez 37 field goal
R – K.J. Hicks recovered fumble in end zone (Gonzalez kick)
First downs 19 9
Rush-yards 44-229 17-8
Passing 7-11-1 11-26-1
Passing yards 76 97
Fumbles-lost 2-0 5-3
Penalties 8-85 8-69
Rome: Griffin 14-61; Roberts 4-44; Marquez Kirby 5-32; Jaylynn Sykes 10-24; Kadum 10-68; Warner Robins: Jarius Burnette 5-7; Dylan Fromm 8-(-6).
Rome: Kadum 7-11-1, 76; Warner Robins: Fromm 10-25-1, 77
Rome: Roberts 5-69; Warner Robins: Burnette 6-34; Julius Cobbs 2-17.