The last time Grayson played Camden County there was a different feel.
The Rams were an up-and-coming program, reaching the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAA state playoffs for the first time back in 2007. Meanwhile, Camden was a perennial playoff contender and beat Grayson 22-7.
Two years later, Camden is still a state power, but those young Rams from two years ago are seniors now. They were one win from a state championship game appearance last season and play Camden in Saturday's Corky Kell Classic with their sights set on a return to the Georgia Dome for December's state finals.
"There's been a lot of anticipation for this game. We feel like we're ready," said Grayson defensive tackle Shawn Green, who started for the Rams as a sophomore. "We've been preparing for this all summer. Really, we've been focusing on this game since January."
Grayson would have preferred to play Camden last year in the Class AAAAA state finals. However, a double overtime loss to Peachtree Ridge ended the best season in school history.
"Getting the defending state champs after losing to Peachtree Ridge last year - the kids have been working hard to play this game," Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. "Only one team gets to feel good at the end of the season. This team now, that loss has been weighing on them, so just to play a game and get that feeling out is good, but facing the defending state champs is a bonus."
The Rams went undefeated during the regular season last year, winning the Region 8-AAAAA title for the first time. Grayson burst on to the scene when it defeated defending state champion Lowndes in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
"We feel like we've got a lot to prove," Green said. "It's a statement game for us just like last year against Lowndes."
It should be a smoother trip to face Camden this year than it was two seasons ago. Grayson had to travel to the coast near Jacksonville to play in Kingsland. Along the way the team bus broke down. Things only got worse as the Rams were overmatched by Camden's speedy defense and committed too many turnovers.
"We kind of just put ourselves out of the game, but it was a great experience going into that environment," Conn said.
"I feel like we've grown up a lot since '07. This is a new team and I feel like our program is headed in the right direction. We've had some signature wins since then. They've matured a lot since then."
Grayson only has to make a short drive to the Georgia Dome this weekend, but it's a place where Camden comfortable playing. The powerhouse has traditionally had success against Gwinnett teams there.
The Wildcats are 7-3 in the Dome and have a four-game winning streak over Gwinnett County teams. This is Grayson's second appearance in the Dome after making its debut last year in a 31-21, Corky Kell victory over McEachern.
While starting the season in the Dome against the defending state champs is fun, a return to trip in December for the state finals is the ultimate goal.
"We're just trying to get to a state championship and it starts with this game," Green said.
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