Grayson’s quarterback Hunter Schuessler (7) throws a pass while being taken down by Colquitt County’s Quintin Hampton (55) during the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Saturday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
ATLANTA — With so many young and untested players getting their first major playing time, Grayson head coach Mickey Conn knew his team’s opener against No. 2 state-ranked Colquitt County in the Corky Kell Classic would be a learning experience.
What the young Rams learned most is that turnovers, especially early in the game, are a big ingredient in a recipe for a loss.
Michael Sutton’s interception return for a touchdown just three plays into the game put Grayson on its heels, and the Rams turned the ball over three more times, one of which Colquitt cashed in on for another score en route to a 21-6 win Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
“The difference in the game is really the turnovers and the mistakes we made,” Conn said. “We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and get these kids to learn what to do. There were just too many mistakes.”
And there could’ve been more, as Colquitt (1-0) had a touchdown pass and two other interceptions nullified by penalties.
Yet despite all the miscues, a Grayson (0-1) defense that produced two turnovers of its own, plus a running game that saw Aares McCall and Cameryn Bryant combine for 180 yards, helped keep the Rams within striking distance most of the day.
“As poorly as we played, to give ourselves an opportunity, … I was proud of them,” Conn said. “I thought our kids played hard. I never felt like they gave up.”
But the Rams found themselves having to play catch-up almost from the beginning.
Michael Sutton stepped in front of a Hunter Schuessler pass on the third play of the game and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
The pick six not only put Colquitt in front 7-0 just 35 seconds after the opening kickoff, it also gave the Packers all-important early momentum and confidence.
“We knew (Grayson is) a team about momentum, really,” Colquitt head coach Rush Propst said. “What they do is they get you in their tempo, and if you let them play in their tempo, … they’ve won a lot of ball games like that. … I felt like we could slow them down if we could win first down.
“The pick six early was huge. To me, that was the play of the game. … Turnovers are the name of the game. That was the difference.”
Very little else went right for Grayson over the remainder of the first quarter and into the early stages of the second.
The Rams missed a 36-yard field goal attempt late in the opening frame, and Colquitt took its first offense possession and marched 80 yards in nine plays.
Daniel Mobley connecting with Kiel Pollard for a 6-yard scoring strike that pushed the Packers’ lead to 14-0 with 46 seconds left in the period.
A muffed punt early in the second quarter then set Colquitt up in prime scoring position again at the Grayson 36.
But the Rams’ defense rallied over the remainder of the half. Due in no small part to three first-half sacks — including one by Davis Harrison that dropped Mobley for a 13-yard loss back to near midfield late in the second quarter — Grayson trailed just 14-0 at intermission.
Even after Sihein King, who finished with 117 yards on 23 carries, gave Colquitt its biggest lead at 21-0 with his 2-yard TD run with 6:15 left in the third quarter, Grayson tried to fight back.
The Rams put together their best drive of the game, marching 82 yards in eight plays, with the biggest one being Bryant’s 41-yard rumble that helped set up A.J. Stinson’s seven-yard score, and pull Grayson to within 21-6 with 3:17 left in the quarter.
But even after Jordan Hayes snagged an interception for the Rams late in the third quarter, Colquitt wouldn’t allow them any closer.