Grayson's defense stuffs defending state champs

ATLANTA - Grayson's players talked all week about how their season opener would be a statement game.

They made it loud and clear on Saturday in the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome.

The Rams overcame two special team miscues and shut down Camden's offense to beat the defending Class AAAAA state champions 14-10.

"Any time you play in the Dome you want to put your best foot forward," Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. "You're playing the state champions. It's a statement game for us because we've never beaten Camden. We wanted to make a statement that we could play with Camden County, the defending state champions. It was a statement game for us."

Grayson's defense held Camden County to just 114 yards of total offense. The Wildcats averaged over 270 yards rushing a game last season and only had 40 yards against Grayson.

"We run the wing-T, so our defense has seen it over and over again," Conn said. "I think just the fact they've seen it so much. Our defensive coordinator Coach (Robert) Andrews and our defensive staff did a fantastic job against that wing-T and their speed."

Camden County was held to just three first downs and 46 yards of its total offense came on one pass play.

"Camden County's offense is really good and they have a lot of great athletes," Grayson defensive lineman Joseph Champaign said. "It was a war out there until the end."

Grayson trailed 10-7 midway through the fourth quarter when the Rams forced a turnover and Nnamdi Ofodile recovered the ball at the 42.

Ean Pemberton needed just three plays before breaking loose on a 24-yard run down the right sideline and a play later scored the go-ahead touchdown. The senior finished with 132 yards rushing on 23 carries.

"That game could have gone either way," Conn said. "We were able to get a break with that turnover and take advantage of it. If we don't get that break, who knows?"

Grayson put together a nine-play, 73-yard scoring drive to start the second quarter. But it wasn't pretty. Patrick Santry hit Korey Jones down the middle for a 44-yard pass. Then offensive lineman Zach Cooper and Santry recovered fumbles and the Rams were hit with a false start and delay of game once they reached the red zone. Pemberton's 19-yard run to the one on third down set up Santry's touchdown two plays later.

Grayson had its first punt of the second half blocked by J.J. Green and Nate Haymon scooped it up at 41 and raced in for the touchdown to make it 7-7.

On the ensuing kickoff, Grayson fumbled the ball and Camden recovered at the 20.

But the Rams defense held Camden to a 35-yard field goal by Matt Ehasz to go ahead 10-7.

Grayson punter Austin Clark was tackled for a loss on the next series and it wasn't until the fumble recovery that Grayson began to show some life again.

"The thing that really won the game was the kids keeping their composure and showing their character at the end," Conn said. "We give up a blocked up punt for a touchdown and then fumble the kickoff to give up three points. Unbelievable amount of character there. They didn't give up."

Grayson was denied an opportunity to play for the state title last year against Camden but could return to the Dome later this year if Saturday's win is any indication of the season.

"This was a big statement," Grayson defensive tackle and Georgia Tech commitment Shawn Green said. "We've worked for this game ever since January. But we want to finish undefeated. We started at the Dome and want to finish at the Dome."