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Grayson begins title defense against Wheeler

Wheeler at Grayson

Wheeler Wildcats (5-AAAAAA)

Coach: Michael Collins

Record: 6-4

Last week: Beat Cherokee 21-20

Grayson Rams (8-AAAAAA)

Coach: Mickey Conn

Record: 9-1

Last week: Beat Brookwood 42-13

Last meeting: First meeting

Directions to Grayson High School: From I-85, go east on Sugarloaf Parkway to Ga. Highway 20 and turn right. Proceed through Grayson and turn right on Hope Hollow Road. School is immediately on the left

Wheeler used a little bit of luck to get in the playoffs this season.

The Wildcats needed a victory, two other teams to lose, and then had to win a tie-breaker scenario. They got all of that to reach the postseason for the second time in 15 years.

This Friday they will get the reward of playing defending state champion Grayson.

"It's probably not the best draw of the bracket," Wheeler coach Michael Collins said. "All we can do is go out and give our best effort."

The Rams (9-1) feature the nation's No. 1 college recruit in Robert Nkemdiche and have a defense with seven Division I college prospects. The group has given up just 13 points in the last five games.

"They have some very good high school football players. They play hard and with a lot of class," Collins said.

Even though Wheeler (6-4) doesn't have a strong playoff resume, don't expect Grayson to take them lightly. The Rams found out two months ago what happens when you do that. They lost a surprising game to Parkview thanks to four turnovers and more than 100 yards in penalties.

"It's been that way all year. We learned a hard lesson early on that we're going to get everyone's best effort when they play us," Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. "I think we have to understand we're going to get everybody's best shot regardless of who it is."

The Rams needed to win out and some help along the way to win their fourth region title in five years.

"We've been in second place all year," Conn said. "We've been scratching and clawing trying to win that thing."

Grayson responded nicely from the Parkview loss by winning their next seven games in dominating fashion. They posted four shutouts and won by an average of 42 points. Their closest victory was a 45-27 win over Shiloh that wasn't as close as the score indicates.

"We'll try and take what they give us., Collins said.

Wheeler is in playoffs for first time since 2006. Third-year head coach Collins has the Wildcats in the playoffs after winning just 10 games the last five years combined.

"I think Wheeler is a good team and on their way up," Conn said. "They're getting better and better,"

Much of the team's success revolves around 6-foot-7, 210-pound quarterback Elijah Staley, who has a dozen college basketball scholarship offers.

"He's humungous and likes to get out of trouble with his legs," Conn said. "They have receivers that can get open."

Grayson has won 13 straight at home and is 37-2 at Britt-Moody Field since 2007. A victory over Wheeler and the Rams play the North Gwinnett vs. Johns Creek winner in second round.

"We're going to need a great effort from all of our guys to have a chance," Collins said.