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Rams looking to break through

Mickey Conn keeps a scrapbook of pictures from big games his Grayson football team has won.

The pictures feature the final score on several scoreboards. Like 24-7 over Stephens County in 2002 or 35-34 over Therrell that same year. Then there are more recent pictures like 28-6, the Rams' first win over Parkview, or 22-21, the school's first playoff win in Class AAAAA.

Those are just some of the big wins in Grayson's short-lived history. They've all been instrumental in the growth of the program.

But a win tonight would be the biggest of them all.

Grayson hosts three-time defending Region 8-AAAAA champion Brookwood, the only Region 8 team Grayson has never defeated. The Broncos hold a 28-game region win streak dating back to 2004.

A win would put Grayson in position to capture its first Region 8-AAAAA title. But more importantly it would also put the program at the next level.

"We've never beat them before," said Conn, who has been the head coach at Grayson since the school opened in 2000. "If you beat the defending region champs it's definitely a breakthrough. I would definitely say it would be a breakthrough win."

Grayson has certainly had plenty of big wins in its nine-year history.

The Rams captured their first region win over perennial playoff participant Stephens County in 2002. Two weeks later, Grayson went on the road and beat Hart County, giving the Bulldogs their first region loss since 1997.

Grayson went on to win the Region 8-AAA title that season, the only region championship in program's history.

In the Rams' first playoff game ever against Therrell, Clay Bailey kicked a last-second field goal to give Grayson its first postseason win after trailing by 20 points in the first half. Conn related the victory to winning a national championship at the time.

In recent years its been Grayson's big wins over Parkview, North Cobb and Norcross that have lifted the program.

The Rams defeated perennial Region 8 power Parkview in 2006 for the first time and have now beat the Panthers three times in a row.

"Beating Parkview was a breakthrough win," Conn said. "That was huge."

Later in 2006, Grayson got its first Class AAAAA playoff victory over North Cobb.

It wasn't until last season that the Rams reached the quarterfinals after a second-round win over Norcross, which had beaten Grayson the previous three times.

"Norcross was the two-time defending region champ, so to beat them was a big win," Conn said.

But it was Grayson's last game in 2007 that Conn really feels has his program where it's at this season.

"Even though it was a loss, I think when we went down and played Camden County in the quarterfinals, that was a big game for us," Conn said. "The type of program they have, playing in that environment, we grew up a lot. To be playing a team with so much speed and talent, we're trying to play at that level."

Grayson has reeled off six straight wins to start this season and is ranked No. 6 in the state. The Rams haven't done that since their second season when they won eight-straight in non-region play.

An even more impressive streak is Grayson's dominance at home. The Rams have won nine straight at home, the longest current streak in the county among AAAAA schools. The Rams' last home loss was 13-7 in double overtime to Brookwood in 2006.

"It would mean a lot," Conn said of a win over Brookwood. "They're the only one we haven't beat. It would mean a lot."

A win over Brookwood would not seal the Region 8 title, but you would have to like the Rams' chances. After tonight's game, Grayson's next three opponents have a combined record of 3-13. The Rams still have a bye week on the schedule in Week 10.

The last team other than Brookwood or Parkview to win the Region 8 title was South Gwinnett in 2003. Since 1993, only Brookwood (7), Parkview (6) and South (2) have won Region 8 championships.

"We're trying to build a championship program and our goal is to go 1-0 every week," Conn said. "I know it sounds cliche, but Brookwood is the next game on the schedule. The kids know it's a big game, I don't have to tell them. We're taking it like any other week, keeping everything the same. Just a different opponent."

A breakdown of tonight's Brookwood-Grayson matchup:

When Brookwood has the ball

Brookwood's offense struggled early in the season as it managed a combined 12 points in its first two games.

The Broncos got things rolling offensively last week against Meadowcreek in a 48-7 victory. Running back Brice Smith rushed for 105 yards and four touchdowns in the win. Smith leads the team in rushing with 486 yards and Marvis Lane has 264 yards.

"They are always good up front," Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. "They've got some good running backs and get behind them. They kind of like to do what we do, control the clock and gain first downs."

The Broncos' offense will face a tough Grayson defense that has two shutouts this season, including one last week in a 42-0 victory over Shiloh.

"They are big and strong on the defensive line," Brookwood coach Mark Crews said.

Linebacker Jonathan Langston leads the Rams in tackles with 49 and Terry Williams has 42 stops. Joseph Champaign is second in the county in sacks with six.

When Grayson has the ball

It's no surprise what Grayson is going to do with ball - run, run and run. That's the Rams' bread and butter in their wing-T offense, which leads the county in rushing with 1,895 yards.

"They've got quick people on offense and we're going to have to play smart on offense to keep the ball from them," Crews said. "They've got a little guy that can scoot on the outside and then they've got a couple of other guys that run the ball up the middle, so it's a balanced attack."

The little guy is 5-foot-4 Ean Pemberton, who is second in the county in rushing with 865 yards and eight TDs. Throw in the big, strong running of Harrell Gunn (449 yards) and James Earl Jones (251 yards) and you have a potent running attack.

Pemberton has rushed for over 100 yards in five of Grayson's six wins. His lowest rushing output was 94 yards against Warner Robins.

On the other side of the ball, it's been Brookwood's defense that has kept the team in ball games. Michael Brown leads the linebacking trio with 55 tackles, while David Cooper (37) and Chris Martin (29) are second and third on the team.

Brookwood has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.

"Brookwood is Brookwood and they do what they do and they've been doing it for it for years," Conn said. "There's not a lot of tricks to it. They're really tough defensively. They've got two big defensive tackles. It's going to be a very physical game."

What's at stake

It's only the midway point of the regular season, but tonight's winner has the upper hand in winning the Region 8-AAAAA championship.

Both teams are undefeated in region play, but the road is a little easier for Grayson after tonight than Brookwood.

The Rams' opponents have a combined record of 3-13, while the Broncos still have Dacula, South Gwinnett and Parkview on the schedule.

Grayson has never beaten Brookwood in four meetings and the three-time defending Region 8 champs are riding a 28-game region win streak dating back to 2004.

History is on the Broncos' side, but Grayson has been dominant this season. The Rams are ranked No. 6 in the state and have only been challenged once. Parkview is the only team to keep it close with Grayson, while the other games have been decided by an average of 27 points.

SideBar: BROOKWOOD AT GRAYSON

Brookwood Broncos (8-AAAAA)

Coach: Mark Crews

Record: 3-2, 3-0 region

Last week: Beat Meadowcreek 48-7

Grayson Rams (7-AAAAA)

Coach: Mickey Conn

Record: 6-0, 4-0 region

Last week: Beat Shiloh 42-0

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: Brookwood won 24-7 last year

Directions to Grayson High School: From I-85, go east on Sugarloaf Parkway to Ga. Highway 20 and turn right. Proceed through Grayson and turn right on Hope Hollow Road. School is immediately on the left.

Series history:

2007: Brookwood 24, Grayson 7

2006: Brookwood 13, Grayson 7, 2OT

2005: Brookwood 37, Grayson 13

2004: Brookwood 13, Grayson 7