LOGANVILLE -- Special teams are often the most overlooked aspect of a football team. That's not true at Grayson, which advanced to the third round of the Class AAAAA playoffs because of its success there.
The Rams converted a fumbled kickoff into a touchdown, scored on a long punt return and kicked a field goal Friday, enabling them to turn back determined Roswell 24-14 at Grayson Community Stadium. The No. 1-ranked Rams (12-0) will meet Newnan (12-0) in the quarterfinals; the site will be determined by a coin flip, since both teams were region champions.
"I'm proud of the way we came back on special teams tonight," said Grayson coach Mickey Conn. "Tonight the difference was special teams."
The game was tied 7-7 when Roswell took the second-half kickoff. Martez Sumier caught the ball around the 5, but never really had a good handle on the ball and it popped loose. Denzel Nkemdiche recovered for Grayson at the 18. Two plays later, Frank Bebbs swept around the left end and into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown.
The special teams did it again after the Grayson defense forced Roswell to go three-and-out on its ensuing possession. Punter Richie Leone floated a kick to Grayson's Kori Gaines, who caught it, got a key block from Jesse Hogan, and ran it down the right sideline for a 52-yard touchdown. With 8:59 left in the third quarter Grayson had seized control of the game.
"We prepared for it all week," Gaines said. "We came out and did our jobs. The special teams were the difference tonight."
Roswell was only able keep the game close through its all-or-nothing passing attack. J.P. Douglas only completed 12 of 30 passes, but wound up with 217 yards and two touchdowns. His second score came on a 25-yard throw that glanced off the hand of Brett Beidel and into the arms of Keegan Hughes, who scored the TD. The play cut Grayson's lead to 21-14 with 10:27 remaining and forced the Rams to go back to work.
That's when Grayson pulled out one of its now-famous yardage-crunching, time-consuming drives. This one went 16 plays, ate nearly nine minutes off the clock and resulted in Austin Clark's 27-yard field goal with 1:34 left.
"That's the best feeling I've had in a long time," said Clark, who has nine field goals this year.
The crucial moment of the drive came when Conn decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Grayson 28. There was more than eight minutes left in the game and failure could have turned the momentum back to Roswell.
"Hey, you get four downs. Why not use them all?" Conn said.
He gave the ball to big Terry Williams, the linebacker who doubles as the short-yardage back. Williams got more than 1. He wound up with 15 and Grayson was able to march down for the clinching field goal.
"That surprised me," Williams said. "I didn't expect that."
It was just another part of a strong effort by Williams, who intercepted a pass late in the first half to thwart a Roswell threat. It was one of four turnovers forced by the Rams, who allowed only 14 yards rushing.
"The defense played great," Williams said. "We redeemed ourselves tonight."
The offense wasn't bad, either. Ean Pemberton rushed 30 times for 166 yards and one TD. He had six runs longer than 10 yards, including a 56-yard on his second carry. But Roswell otherwise did a nice job keeping him in check.