For Walton and Grayson , it will be “déjà vu all over again” when they meet in the championship. Both teams will play the season’s final game on the same field upon which they started their respective seasons. Each team will also be playing a team from the same county as their opponent is from in that first game.
Each year the Corky Kell Classic, held at the Georgia Dome, marks the beginning of the football season with a series of games from some of the best football programs in in the state. This year, Grayson beat Cobb’s Kell 7-0 in one matchup. In another game, Walton defeated Gwinnett’s Peachtree Ridge 26-14. Another side note is that both teams are undefeated.
This is just the second time undefeated teams have met in the championship since the GHSA went to five classifications in 2000. (The only other time was in 2001 when Parkview edged Northside-Warner Robins, 12-7).
WALTON 14-0, Region 5 Champions
Walton survived a furious comeback by Cobb County-rival Lassiter last week to advance to the school’s first-ever appearance in the state football finals. The Raiders (14-0) stopped a Lassiter drive when a pass fell incomplete in the end zone. Walton won 30-24.
The Raiders run a conservative, but high-powered offense. Behind a powerful offensive, they like to hand the ball to junior tailback Tyren Jones. On the season, Jones has rushed for 2,289 yards and 38 touchdowns. In the victory over Lassiter, he ran for 183 yards and two scores. His 65-yard scamper in the third quarter provided the winning margin for Walton. Vanderbilt and Duke are pursuing Jones, but expect other SEC and ACC schools to join the battle for his signature on a letter of intent in February 2013. Jones leads an offense that averages over 37 points and just under 200 yards rushing per game.
Senior twin brothers Daron and Zack Blaylock have already made their college commitment. The pair of standout defensive backs will play for Joker Phillips at Kentucky next fall. Zack leads all Cobb County defenders with 11 interceptions, but dislocated his elbow returning an interception last week against Lassiter. He is expected to play tonight. Daron has been among the team leaders in tackles all season for the Raiders.
When asked what his team must do to beat Grayson, Hidalgo said the team needs to play well on offense and defense for a full 48 minutes. “We are going to have to win on thirds downs, said Hildalgo. “Get off the field on third downs and stay on the field when we have the ball.”
This is Walton’s first football appearance in the state finals and the first for an East Cobb school since Wheeler played for the title in 1973.
GRAYSON 14-0, Region 8 Champions
Much like their counterparts from Cobb, the Grayson Rams’ semifinal game went down to a final drive. Quarterback Nick Schuessler delivered a touchdown pass to wide receiver Marcus Lindquist with less than a minute left to complete a comeback against Region 1 powerhouse Colquitt County 35-31 in Loganville. The scoring pass capped an 87-yard drive.
Offensively, head coach Mickey Conn favors an offense very common on Friday nights, but less popular on Saturdays and Sundays: the run based Wing-T. That isn’t to say that Schuessler is not a proficient passer. He has thrown for more than 1,497 yards and 17 touchdowns this fall. When they run the football, look for a thunder and lightning style from running backs Devin Gillespie and Robert Nkemdiche.
While Gillespie leads the team in rushing with 803 yards rushing, Nkemdiche probably leads the state in the attention received by college recruiters. Nkemdiche is being recruited by Alabama, Georgia and pretty much everybody else. The junior was recently named the top college prospect in the 2013 class across the country.
Nkemdiche plays fullback, but also anchors the Rams’ defense. When the defensive end is sacking the quarterback (he had three sacks in the quarterfinal victory over another Region 1 power, Lowndes), he is taking up double and triple teams. Either way, he has helped Grayson (14-0) limit opponents to less than 40 yards rushing per game.
Over the final five-game stretch of the Region 8 schedule, the Rams limited opponents to 14 total points. Before giving up 31 points to pass-happy Colquitt County, no opponent had scored more than 17 points against Grayson this season.
The Rams have made it two the quarterfinals (at least) in each of the last five seasons, but this is their first appearance in the finals.