ATLANTA -- A holding call, two false starts and a fumble preceded Grayson getting stuffed for a loss on fourth-and-short deep in Kell territory, quickly extinguishing the momentum a struggling offense had built up late in the fourth quarter.
It was that kind of season opener Saturday afternoon for the Rams, who suffered their first-ever loss in the Georgia Dome to Kell 13-10 in the annual Corky Kell Classic.
Grayson, ranked ninth in Class AAAAA, fumbled six times (losing two) and threw a costly interception that set up the Longhorns' only touchdown in the
loss to the ninth-ranked team in AAAA. All 13 of Kell's points came off Grayson turnovers.
"We gave them the football game," Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. "We had three turnovers and they got points off all three of them. I don't how many times we laid it on the ground (fumbled), but it had to be six or seven times."
Despite all the problems that led to a 13-3 deficit, the Rams made a late charge.
The error prone series with three penalties and a third-down fumble ended at the Kell 11-yard line with Devin Gillespie being thrown for a loss. As it did most of the day, the Grayson defense responded with a big stop.
That set up a 10-play scoring drive sparked by the passing of Nick Schuessler, who finished 8 of 13 for 117 yards. He hit Kasey Gaines for a big 18-yard gain on fourth down, then closed the march with a 23-yard scoring strike to Garrett Horne (three catches, 68 yards).
Unfortunately the score came with just 1:20 left in the game, so the Rams' hopes ended with a failed onside kick moments later.
"On defense we had to create turnovers and we did that," Kell head coach Derek Cook said. "I really thought our defense played well."
Grayson's offense felt the brunt of that. The Rams had just 70 yards of offense and entered halftime tied 3-3 after a muffed punt at their own 24-yard line set up a Kell field goal.
The second half started miserably, too. Kell's Taylor Henkle intercepted Schuessler on the first play of the third quarter, giving the Longhorns the ball at the Grayson 20. The defense held again, forcing another field goal that put Kell up 6-3.
Grayson made it 2-for-2 on turnovers on its opening two drives of the second half with a fumbled handoff and this time the defense couldn't deliver. A big 36-yard pass play set up a short TD run by Brian Randolph for the 13-3 edge.
"I thought our defense played extremely well," Conn said. "They didn't give them anything."
Randolph, a Tennessee commitment, didn't hurt the Rams on offense. He rushed 10 times for 24 yards (16 on a run in the waning seconds of the first half) and caught three passes for 10 yards.
Most of Kell's offensive success came from quarterback Austin Petrik, who was 12-for-19 passing for 100 yards and rushed for a team-high 41 yards.
Grayson rushed for 151 yards in its first game after graduating record-breaking back Ean Pemberton. Quarterback Camen Marshall (14 rushes, 56 yards) led the way and Ryan Braswell added 11 carries for 50 yards.
"We're a young team, an inexperienced team," Conn said. "We're still learning who we are."