The foundation upon which Mickey Conn built the Grayson program — ferocious defense — finally brought the Rams a Class AAAAA championship. In a battle between two unbeatens, Grayson proved it was the most physical team in the state with a 24-0 victory over Walton in the final game of championship weekend on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Grayson (15-0) smothered a prolific Walton rushing offense, led by the state’s leading rusher in Tyren Jones, with physical line play led by two-way star Robert Nkemdiche. The junior defensive end harassed Walton’s ball-carriers all night, and scored the first touchdown of the evening for the Rams.
The Rams set up the opening touchdown by recovering a fumble by Myles Howard in Walton territory. Grayson capped the short drive Nkemdiche’s touchdown dive from 3 yards out. Nkemdiche finished with 85 yards rushing on 19 carries and the touchdown.
For the rest of the first half, Nick Schuessler’s arm carried the Rams to a 24-0 lead. Still in the first quarter, Schuessler hit Corey Schaeffer for a long completion down to the Walton 22, then the Rams took a 10-0 lead on a 38-yard Callen Rhodes field goal.
On Grayson’s next drive, Schuessler laid it out for a wide-open Callen Hightower down the middle of the field for a 54-yard strike. After another Walton three-and-out, Ryan Carter returned a punt 67 yards to the Walton 11-yard line. On the very next snap, Schuessler rolled right and again found Hightower uncovered for a touchdown.
Schuessler would not throw again for the rest of the game, finishing 3-for-3 for 108 yards and the two scores.
Walton (14-1) did not earn a first down until nearly halfway through the second quarter, and only managed two in the first half.
Walton moved the ball more effectively in the second half, but still was not able to approach the red zone until Jones took off on a 53-yard run to the Grayson 15 with under five minutes to play in the game. Four plays later, the Rams had stopped Walton on downs with 2:16 left, and ran out the clock from there.
Though the Rams did not score in the second half, they continued to pound the ball and run clock with a deep rotation of running backs.
Both Walton and Grayson made their first title-game appearances on Saturday night. It was Gwinnett County’s second straight AAAAA state title; Walton was the first East Cobb school to make a title-game appearance since Wheeler in 1973.
The Grayson program, which was begun in 2000 by Conn, had made the state quarterfinals for its fifth straight season, but had been stopped in the semifinals in both 2008 and 2010 before breaking through to the title game Saturday.