At the turn of the century, Grayson had not played a year of high school football in its history. Now, Mickey Conn’s program is one of the best in the state after winning the 2011 Class AAAAA state title. Today in Game 2 of the Metro PCS Corky Kell Classic, Grayson probably didn’t play its best, but managed a decisive 31-12 win over a quality opponent in No. 9 McEachern to extend the Rams’ state-best 16-game winning streak.
“We’ve got a lot of things to clean up, but it’s nice to get away with a game like that and come away with a win,” said Conn. “We’ve got plenty of issues we need to fix.”
Conn’s Rams clung to a 14-12 lead at the half, but proved their superiority in the second stanza by forcing the young Indians into critical mistakes and then taking advantage of them. McEachern coach Kyle Hockman knew what his team was up against today but still wasn’t pleased with the outcome.
“I think ‘pleased’ would be the wrong word,” said Hockman. “I think there’s some things we did well. We’ve got some good players and good talent, made a lot of simple mistakes that we want to improve from Game 1 to Game 2.”
While Grayson started a senior-laden defense that returned nearly intact from 2011, McEachern had just one starter return from their unit. Despite the disadvantage in experience, Hockman’s squad fought the vaunted Rams throughout the contest, only to be outscored 10-0 in the final period.
“We played about how I thought we would,” said Hockman. “I thought we would fight them tooth and nail. It’s was just making some critical mistakes at critical times.”
McEachern offensive lineman and Maryland commitment JuJuan Dulaney found out that Grayson’s defense was all it was advertised to be. But he and his teammates will look for the experience to help them navigate the season.
“I know this experience will help,” said Dulaney. “We just competed with one of the nation’s top teams and we hung with them for a while.”
Dulaney came away impressed with the Rams’ defense. When asked if they were the best unit he has faced, he had no doubts.
“Yeah, I feel like (it was),” he said.
Early in the game, however, McEachern quarterback Ty Clemons found some creases in the Rams’ defense. After Grayson running back Wayne Gallman scored on a 17-yard touchdown on the Rams’ first drive, Clemons scampered 79 yards to pay dirt to get the Indians on the board. After a missed two-point conversion, Grayson led 7-6. Robert Nkemdiche then asserted his will on a 2-yard touchdown run of his own to give the Rams a 14-6 edge. Clemons then struck again on a 12-yard pass to Chris Okeh before the half.
In the second half, Aares McCall ran 37 yards to the McEachern one to set up quarterback David McTier’s one-yard plunge that gave the Rams a 12-point lead again.
In the fourth quarter, McEachern drove deep into Grayson territory only to see Clemons’ pass picked off by Ryan Carter and returned all the way to the McEachern eight-yard line. A 26-yard field goal by Alex Louthan with 4:20 left gave Grayson a 24-12 edge and a Jordan Germany touchdown inside two minutes effectively put the game out of reach.
The win was satisfying to Conn, who was concerned with how his team would respond to the so-called hangover effect of winning the ultimate prize.
“I don’t think people understand the pressure that mounts on these young people (after winning state),” said Conn. “For our kids to work through that and go out and get the win, I think it speaks volumes to their character, leadership, their offseason training in seeing all that stuff they’ve done equal out to a big win like that is real positive.”
The Rams will take on perennial Florida power Miami-Central next week.
“We’re going to enjoy this like Tom Osborne says, from the time you leave the sidelines until the time you get in the locker room, so we’ve enjoyed that win,” said Conn. “Now we’ve got to get back to work and try and figure out what we’re going to do with Miami-Central.”
Meanwhile, McEachern will host Cobb County neighbor Walton next week in the Battle of I-75. It will be yet another huge measuring stick for the young Indians.
“We’ll know if we got better next week against a really good team in Walton,” said Hockman. “That’s what we’re looking for and we’ll know that on a weekly basis.”