Questions answered in Dome
Grayson makes statement, Brookwood and Norcross rally late

ATLANTA - As with most other non-region games in the opening week of the high school football season, perspective is an important consideration when looking at the 2009 Corky Kell Classic.

Gwinnett's three participants in this year's event - Brookwood, Grayson and Norcross - came away with varying outlooks after opening the season Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

Grayson came into its much-anticipated showdown with Camden County looking to make a "statement," which the No. 4 state-ranked Rams did loud and clear with a 14-10 victory.

The task was different, however, for Brookwood and Norcross, each of which came into its game Saturday looking for answers to some important questions, many of which were answered.

While the first tests for the Broncos and Blue Devils wound up in losses to foes from Cobb County - Brookwood's a 42-32 loss to McEachern and Norcross' heart-wrenching 28-27 overtime loss to Walton - the respective coaches left knowing those tests were merely prep courses for even bigger tests to come.

No test, however, was bigger than the one Grayson (1-0) had in taking on the defending Class AAAAA state champion and preseason No. 1 team in Camden County (0-1).

The Rams passed with flying colors with what coach Mickey Conn called "a statement game."

Grayson's defense made perhaps the biggest statement by holding the Wildcats to just 114 total yards, including limiting a potent Camden running game to just 40 yards.

"It was a real big statement game," said Rams senior linebacker Terry Williams, who made several high-impact tackles Saturday, including three for losses. "They just won the state championship last year. Playing them in the Dome, it just felt real big."

In Conn's mind, perhaps the biggest statement the Rams made was with how they dealt with some adversity after a pair of special teams miscues.

A 1:37 minute span that saw a blocked punt return for a touchdown and a fumble on the ensuing kickoff that resulted in a field goal turned what had been a fairly dominating performance by Grayson into a stunning 10-7 deficit.

But the Rams responded, with the defense coming up with a critical fourth-down stop and a fumble recovery by Nnamdi Ofodile at the Camden 42-yard line, and the offense scoring just four plays later on Ean Pemberton's 4-yard run to reclaim the lead for good. Pemberton finished with 132 yards on 23 carries.

"How many kids that are 15, 16, 17 years old fold their tents and give up (in a situation like that)?" Conn asked. "These kids didn't. They didn't give up. Camden had the momentum in the third quarter and we were able to take it back."

Displaying character in the face of adversity was also a theme for both Brookwood (0-1) and Norcross (0-1).

Despite suffering their fourth straight loss at the Georgia Dome, the Broncos also refused to quit after falling behind 26-6 by halftime and by as much as 33-6 midway through the third quarter against a McEachern team that rolled up 408 yards of total offense.

Buoyed by Allen McCray's 97-yard kickoff return and a big night by Julian Suber (166 total yards, three TDs), Brookwood kept battling all night to make the game competitive.

"We've got a lot of young kids on defense and I think they learned a little something about the speed of the game," Crews said. "They sort of got a lesson in the real world, but we'll get better.

"The kids kept playing hard. A lot of teams in that situation would quit and hang their heads. But our kids fought back."

The same can be said for Norcross, which had to overcome a fumble on the opening kickoff that set up a Walton touchdown and put the Raiders up 7-0 less than a minute into the game.

The Blue Devils immediately answered with a drive that ended with the first of three touchdown passes from quarterback Ronald Rose - who threw for 200 yards, including 143 on six catches and two scores to Geremy Davis.

"Anytime you fumble the opening kickoff and spot (the opponent) seven points right off the bat, it's tough," Norcross coach Kevin Maloof said. "But the offense drove right down and responded to the situation."

It took awhile for Norcross to figure out a Walton running game that piled up 311 yards on the ground, and the Blue Devils had to rally from 14 points down to force overtime before trouble in special teams that had built all night cost them dearly.

A blocked extra point of a go ahead touchdown - the second blocked kick of the night and third special teams miscue of the game - wound up being the difference when Walton answered with a score and the point after to win the game.

"We were disappointed with our special teams," Maloof said. "The funny thing is, we work on special teams as much as we do offense and defense. It just didn't show up Saturday."

SideBar: High School Football

Friday's Games

Collins Hill at Parkview

Duluth at Shiloh

Hart County at GAC

Luella at Meadowcreek

Mill Creek at Dacula

Monroe Area at Apalachee

Mountain View at Archer

Peachtree Ridge at Harrison

South Gwinnett at Norcross

Temple at Hebron

Upson-Lee at Berkmar, 8 p.m.

Wesleyan at Clarkston (North DeKalb Stadium)

Saturday's Games

Central Gwinnett vs. Byrnes (S.C.) at North Gwinnett, 5 p.m.

Prattville (Ala.) at North Gwinnett, 8 p.m.

- All games at 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted