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Grayson beats Walton 24-0 for first state title

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Grayson's Kory Anderson celebrates as the final seconds wind down of the Class AAAAA state championship on Saturday after the Rams beat Walton 24-0.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Grayson's Kory Anderson celebrates as the final seconds wind down of the Class AAAAA state championship on Saturday after the Rams beat Walton 24-0.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Grayson Callen Hightower (6) keeps his eyes on the ball while catching a touchdown pass during the second quarter against Walton in the Class AAAAA state football championship game played Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Hightower's touchdown pass set the score at 16 to 0.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Grayson's Fred Zerblis (74), Sebastian Rice (92) and head coach Mickey Conn hoist the Class AAAAA state championship trophy following the Rams' defeat over Walton.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Grayson's Corey Schaeffer (9) makes a catch over Walton's Daron Blaylock (8) during the first half of Saturday's Class AAAAA state championship game at the Georgia Dome.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Grayson's Jack Banda (82) sacks Walton quarterback Parker McLeod (12) during the third quarter of the Class AAAAA state football championship game played Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Grayson defeated Walton 24-0.

ATLANTA -- The state championship is staying in Gwinnett County.

Grayson's defense shutdown the state's top running back and quarterback Nick Schuessler threw for two touchdowns.

That was enough for the Rams to cruise to a 24-0 win over Walton in the Class AAAAA title game at the Georgia Dome.

"It feels awesome," Schuessler said of the state championship. "God blessed us with the opportunity and we took advantage of it."

A year after Brookwood won the Class AAAAA state championship, Grayson (15-0) is keeping the trophy in a county which has won six state titles since 2000. The Walton (14-1) loss extends Cobb County's streak to 45 years since its last state champion.

"This is the best experience of my whole life," Grayson junior Jack Banda said. "The mission is now finished. We finished with a big boom."

It was the 100th win for Grayson's Mickey Conn, the program's only head coach. The Rams, who are ranked No. 6 in the nation by USA Today, began the year with a with 7-0 win over Kell in the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome. They ended their season there Saturday with another dominating defensive performance.

"Words can't really explain it right now," Grayson standout defensive end/running back Robert Nkemdiche said. "I'm just so happy for my head coach. He's been going at this for years. I'm just so happy I could get it for him and my teammates.

"The defense played awesome, and the offense put points on the board. Everybody came together as one team and did this thing."

Walton's Tyren Jones came into the game as the state's leading rusher, averaging nearly 2,300 yards and 34 touchdowns. He was held to 74 yards rushing, his lowest total of the season.

"He's a good player, but we were waiting for him to play a real defense," Nkemdiche said. "We came for him, and we got him. So I'm really proud of our defense."

Walton managed just 108 yards of total offense. Quarterback Parker McCleod was 6 of 12 passing for 72 yards.

Jordan Germany led the charge with seven tackles, while Shattle Fenteng and Banda had five tackles each. Grayson had four sacks and four tackles for loss. Banda led the way with two sacks, while Nkemdiche and Marquis Motley each had one.

Grayson built a 24-0 halftime lead and relied on its defense and running game in the second half. It was the same formula that worked during the regular season as the Rams went through an undefeated year.

Walton's biggest play was a 52-yard run by Jones in the final minutes of the game. The junior got the ball to the Grayson six, but the Rams defense came up with another big stop on fourth down to preserve the shutout.

It was the fifth straight shutout of the season for the Rams, who allowed 8.7 points a game.

It was the first shutout in a state championship game in the highest classification since Lowndes beat Brunswick 17-0 in the 1999 Class AAAA title game.

"We're glad we got the shutout," Banda said. "We were talking about (Jones) all week. We shut him down. We did everything we wanted to."

Jay Strickland recovered a Walton fumble on a pass play to set up the Rams' first score of the game. Grayson went 42 yards on 10 running plays. Nkemdiche got the ball on eight of the plays, including his three-yard plunge over the line for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The running back/defensive end, who is rated the nation's No. 1 college recruit as a junior, was the game's leading rusher with 84 yards on 17 carries.

Schuessler hit Corey Schaeffer on third-and-18 for a 42 yard completion. That set up Callen Rhodes' 35-yard field goal with 1:15 left in the first quarter.

"They had a great scheme for the run, and they sold out to it," Conn said. "We had a few play-action passes that we wanted to attack with, and we were able to hit them."

Grayson added its next score on a 55-yard touchdown pass from Schuessler to Callen Hightower.

The duo hooked up again for a score just before the half. Ryan Carter had a 66-yard punt return to the 11 and Schuessler threw his second TD pass to Hightower for a 24-0 halftime lead.

"You get a lead like that, and as fast as the high school clock can go down, we wanted to milk that thing down," Conn said. "It was our plan coming out of halftime with a 24-0 lead, as good as our defense was playing, let's pick up two first downs every series, and that was our goal. Anything else was just a bonus. We wanted to milk the clock. We didn't want to take a chance on turnovers."

Schuessler never threw the ball again, going 3-for-3 for 108 yards.

Walton managed just two first downs in the half and had 14 yards of total offense. The Raiders didn't get a first down until 7:40 in the second quarter.

It wasn't much better in the second half.

Grayson's defense continued to dominant, while every play by the offense was a run. That allowed the Rams to run down the clock and capture the program's first state championship since the school opened in 2000.

"We came out and played our best defense," Nkemdiche said. "That's what we're about."

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