Staff Photo: John Bohn Grayson's Obi Motanya (19)celebrates his fumble recovery of a Grayson punt during the fourth quarter against Kell during the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. The fumble recovery set up the game-winning touchdown by Grayson for a 7-0 victory. Grayson players (44) Gage Schraub and Jordan Germany (27) assisted on the recovery.
ATLANTA -- The Grayson defense, dominant throughout Saturday's Corky Kell Classic opener, needed a reward. In the most unlikely of ways, it happened.
Kell's Julian Burris let a punt get past him midway in the fourth quarter of a scoreless game and chased the bouncing football inside his own 10-yard line, where it deflected off his leg. Grayson senior Obi Motanya jumped on the fumble with the help of four of his teammates, giving the Rams' possession at the Kell 5-yard line.
Big Robert Nkemdiche powered his way in on the next play, providing the only points as Grayson avenged a loss to Kell in last year's Corky Kell Classic with a 7-0 win at the Georgia Dome.
"That was huge for us, special teams turned out to be the difference," Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. "That was a huge play. I thought, 'This thing is going to overtime.'"
The teams could have played another eight quarters and Grayson may not have allowed a point on defense.
Despite losing nearly everyone off last year's defense -- except Nkemdiche, a heavily recruited, 6-foot-4, 270-pound junior -- the Rams couldn't be budged by the Kell offense in the season opener.
The unit produced 10 negative plays and held the Longhorns to 54 total yards, including just 12 rushing yards on 21 attempts. Nkemdiche had one of Grayson's four sacks, as well as a tackle for loss.
"This is what we've been working for all summer," Nkemdiche said. "We came out and gave 100 percent and worked hard and didn't give up."
Kell, which gained only five first downs, had the ball in Grayson territory just twice, once after Grayson fumbled a punt and the other after a long punt return. Both drives were stuffed quickly though, the first behind a big sack from Jack Banda and the second with a sack from Nkemdiche and a tackle for a loss from Kasey Gaines and Wayne Gallman.
"It's unbelievable (the way we played on defense) because we lost all those starters from last year's team," Conn said. "But Coach (Robert) Andrews and his defensive staff continue to do an unbelievable job for us."
The stout Grayson group is nothing new for Kell, which won last year's opener in another low-scoring matchup, 13-10.
"Give credit to Grayson's defense," Kell head coach Derek Cook said. "They're big, fast and physical."
Kell had only two plays that gained more than 10 yards and one came on the first play of the game. Its longest gainer was that 14-yarder.
"On defense, we did really good," said Grayson's Devin Gillespie, who played heavily on defense and rushed for a game-high 59 yards. "On offense, we've got some things to work on."
A power-running team that thrives on third-and-short situations, Grayson didn't get many of those against Kell.
The Rams faced 16 third downs and on 11 of those they needed to gain seven yards or more. After a summer of faring well in passing league, Grayson didn't get much going through the air as Nick Schuessler was 5 of 11 passing for 73 yards and an interception.
Wideout Callen Hightower was a catalyst though, grabbing four passes for 62 yards. He and Schuessler also had a 50-yard gain negated by one of the Rams' three first-half holding penalties.
It was that kind of mistake-filled day for Grayson, which ran 15 offensive plays that gained nothing or lost yardage.
"We didn't score points, but the offense kept the ball out of (Kell's) hands," Conn said. "We just killed ourselves with penalties."
Grayson ran 56 offensive plays to Kell's 34, but the yards were hard to come by. The Rams rushed for 155 yards on 45 attempts.
But the defense didn't need much to get Grayson's season going on a good note.
"It was a battle for both teams," Conn said. "It was a good, old-fashioned football game with two good defenses going at it."