SNELLVILLE - Grayson was ranked No. 1 in the state for the first time in the program's 10-year history this week. The Rams had to survive a scare from Brookwood on Friday to keep it.
Devin Gillespie's touchdown run in the fourth quarter clinched the 22-12 victory over Brookwood as Class AAAAA's top team remained unbeaten.
"It's good to know that we are No. 1," Grayson running back Ean Pemberton said. "But even though we are No. 1, we can't settle for that. We have be 1-0 each week and play like it's our next big game."
The win over Brookwood (3-3, 3-1 in region) virtually wraps up the Region 8-AAAAA title for the Rams, who are ranked No. 15 in the nation by USA Today. Grayson (7-0, 5-0 in region) needs to win two of its next three games to officially clinch the championship. The Rams' next three opponents - Berkmar, Meadowcreek and Central Gwinnett - have a combined record of 1-18.
Brookwood shut down Pemberton, the county's No. 2 rusher, for most of the game. The senior running back missed two days of practice this week with bronchitis and it showed in Friday's game. Pemberton had 45 yards on 22 carries in the fourth quarter before his 53-yard run set up Gillespie's score. Pemberton finished with 112 yards on 26 carries.
"I'm feeling better now that we beat Brookwood," Pemberton said. "Whenever we need big plays at big-time moments, I always try to dig deep down and do what I can for the team."
Grayson has won 20 of its last 21 games dating back to last season and has 15 straight region victories. Its last region loss came to Brookwood in overtime in 2007 and it looked like the Broncos might give them another one.
Grayson led 15-0 at halftime, but two quick scores by Brookwood put the Broncos back in the game.
Ben McLane's third-down completions to Nick Moore and Taylor Sketch kept the Broncos' drive alive and to the 24-yard line. Marvis Lane's 15-yard run put the Broncos inside the 10 and the McLane (10 of 18, 164 yards) hooked up with Julian Suber for a nine-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion failed and Grayson led 15-6 with 1:32 left in the third quarter.
Brookwood held the Rams offense to three-and-out and the Broncos needed just three plays to score again. McLane was good on third down again, hitting Andre Sims for a 54-yard touchdown pass. A botched snap on the PAT resulted in a failed two-point conversion and Grayson led 15-12 with 11:02 in the fourth quarter.
"Our offense fought hard to get us back in it in the second half," Brookwood head coach Mark Crews said. "I think we might have proven something to ourselves tonight that we keep working hard and keep getting better we'll be better when we get a few weeks down the road."
Pemberton countered with his big run on third down two possessions later and Gillespie scored with 5:20 left in the game.
"Our defense, I can't be prouder of our defense," Crews said. "They gave up one long run that kind of changes the end of field right there. Other than that they gave us a chance to win the game."
Donovan Barker led the Broncos defense with 12 tackles and five for losses. Zeke Brown had eight stops, Lane added nine with four tackles for losses.
Terry Williams' sack of McLane hurt the Broncos comeback attempt and the Grayson defense sealed the game with a fourth down stop.
"That's how you win football games. Keep it close at the end and hopefully the kids will stand up when they need to," Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. "Our kids showed a lot of poise. They had a lot of momentum, scored two big touchdowns, but our guys bowed their neck."
Broncos punter Matt Obermeyer tried to punt of the end zone on Brookwood's first possession of the game, but a high snap allowed Garrett Horne to tackle Obermeyer for the safety.
Austin Clark added a 39-yard field goal to make it 5-0 in the first quarter.
Kori Gaines' second interception off McLane set up Grayson's only touchdown of the first half. Patrick Santry hit Horne for a 42-yard touchdown pass to put the Rams up 12-0 with 2:54 left in the half.
With Brookwood keying on the Rams' running game, Santry went to the air. The senior was 6 of 14 for 121 yards with a touchdown.
"Big games like this we need to be able to open up the passing game and not just the running game," Pemberton said.
Santry's 35-yard pass to Korey Jones put Clark in position for his second field goal, a 37-yarder before halftime to put Grayson ahead 15-0.
Brookwood's offense didn't cross midfield in the first half on five possessions
It was the usual suspects for the Grayson defense to slow down Brookwood's offense. Georgia Tech commitment Shawn Green (seven tackles, four tackles for losses), Kori Gaines (seventh and eighth INTs of the season) and Terry Williams (eight tackles, one sack) all had big games.
"I couldn't be prouder of the way our kids played as far as hanging in there with what everybody says is the best team in the state," Crews said.