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GWINNETT GRADS: Letson key to Ole Miss upset

When Jacksonville State scored a touchdown in the second half of double overtime last Saturday, pulling within a point of SEC foe Ole Miss, Norcross grad Ronnie Letson quickly fired a question from his upstairs coaches box.

“Are we going for two?” the Norcross grad and Jacksonville State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach said.

Down on the field, head coach Jack Crowe paused briefly, though it seemed longer with Letson hanging on for an answer. Soon came the affirmative response and Letson told Crowe he wanted a timeout.

What happened next is a play that Jacksonville State supporters will never forget. Marques Ivory hit La’Ray Williams for the two-point conversion through heavy traffic and the underdogs had stunned host Ole Miss and head coach Houston Nutt, who called the 49-48 loss “the worst” of his career.

“We went crazy in the press box,” said Letson, in his sixth season running the Jacksonville State offense. “The kids on the field went crazy. It was shocking. It was almost like, ‘Did we just do that?’ I’m happy for our kids. They played their hearts out and never gave up. It was the craziest game I’ve ever been involved with.”

Letson’s attack scored the final six times it got the ball, finding a rhythm against the Rebels’ defense. His two-point play didn’t quite go as planned, but he wasn’t complaining.

“It was two guys making a great play, it wasn’t like we designed it to be,” Letson said of the two-point pass. “(Ole Miss) defended it great. It was just two players making a play.”

The victory capped an interesting week for Letson in his homecoming to Ole Miss, where he was a wide receiver from 1995 to 1999 after playing high school ball for Theo Caldwell at Norcross. Though his coaching career started at Jacksonville State (2000-2001 as receivers coach) and Presbyterian (2002 as receivers coach), he returned to Ole Miss for the 2003 season as a graduate assistant for an SEC West and Cotton Bowl championship team.

He’s been at Jacksonville State since 2004, but he still has plenty of memories of Oxford.

“It was neat to come back,” Letson said. “I tried not to make too much of it. I tried to make it a business deal, which it was. But going back to the stadium and seeing some old friends was neat. And of course winning the game made it sweeter.”

Letson also makes fairly regular trips back home to Gwinnett. His parents still live in Norcross and Gwinnett is one of his recruiting areas.

The three Gwinnett players on the Gamecocks’ roster — South Gwinnett’s Griffin Thomas and Michael Bradford and Mill Creek’s James Powell — also got to enjoy the huge upset. Only Thomas, who kicked off and punted once, saw action in the victory.

FOOTBALL

Zimmerman sets Clemson mark, gets national praise

Brookwood grad Dawson Zimmerman’s career day in Clemson’s 35-10 win over North Texas last Saturday included a school-record effort for net punting.

The junior’s net punting average was 51.0, smashing the previous mark of 46.7 set in 1981. His gross average of 51.5 (six punts for 309 yards) was the fourth-best total in school history.

The highlight of Saturday’s performance for Zimmerman, who earned an award for his class’ highest GPA at last season’s football banquet, was a 79-yard punt in the second quarter. It was the second-longest punt in Tiger history.

Zimmerman was named national punter of the week by the College Football Performance Awards earlier this week. He leads the nation in punting average.

Quick hits

T.J. Greenstone of Collins Hill blocked a 27-yard, fourth-quarter field goal attempt and recovered it, but it wasn’t enough to save Vanderbilt in a 23-21 loss to Northwestern. ... Though it was lost in his team’s stunning upset loss to Jacksonville State, Buford grad Melvin Harris had Ole Miss’ first score, a 41-yard TD catch. ... Meadowcreek grad Sean Prezell completed 28 of 43 passes for 254 yards last Saturday, but his Fort Valley State team lost to Morehouse, 47-34.

Central Gwinnett grad Dwayne Cherrington, a sophomore at Holmes Community College (Miss.), had seven tackles and one tackle for loss last weekend in a narrow, season-opening loss to Southwest CC (Miss.). ... Buford’s Justin Roper threw three TD passes as Montana routed Western State 73-2 last Saturday.

CROSS COUNTRY

Richardson wins UGA Invitational

Parkview grad Brett Richardson, in his second season with Georgia’s cross country team, won his first career race last weekend at the UGA Invitational.

The junior ran the 8K course in 24 minutes, 33.18 seconds, helping the Bulldogs to the team title.

Teammate and fellow Parkview grad Brian Detweiler was fifth (24:52.21). Georgia Tech’s Phillip O’Brien, a Collins Hill grad, was 13th in 25:10.19.

In the women’s race, UGA’s Nicole DiMercurio (North Gwinnett) was 10th in 18:30.01 on a 5K course.

SOCCER

Quick kicks

Collins Hill grad Hannah Norwood, a freshman defender at Brenau University, was named recently as the Golden Tiger of the Week as the school’s top athletic performer from the previous week. Norwood anchored the defense in Brenau’s season opener. ... Parkview grad Elena Karakizis, a freshman at Georgia Southern, scored her first college goal last Sunday as the Eagles defeated Charleston Southern 3-2.

Greater Atlanta Christian’s Samantha Abrahart and Brookwood’s Natalie Douglass had two goals and one assist each on Wednesday, powering North Georgia to a 6-0 win over Young Harris. Abrahart now has a team-high three goals this season. Brookwood’s Jessica English and Parkview’s Kirsten Ross shared the shutout in goal.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.