SNELLVILLE — As Coray Keel walked of the field on Friday, the South Gwinnett receiver was greeted by dozens of fans. The Comets’ senior stopped to shake hands and pose for pictures.
All of the attention was certainly merited.
Keel caught three touchdown passes to lead South Gwinnett to a 28-21 win over rival Grayson.
“It feels amazing,” Keel said. “It’s a great team W. I’m proud of the way we came back from the bye week and fought.”
The first half of the season didn’t quite go the way the Comets hoped. They began the year with a 2-4 record, which included a double overtime loss to Dacula and a surprising defeat to Shiloh.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” South Gwinnett head coach John Small said. “Everyone had written them off except themselves. It was a great game and a good team win.”
The Comets (3-4, 2-3) had a bye last week and looked like a rejuvenated team on Friday against Grayson (4-4, 4-2), which was on a three-game winning streak. The Rams had won six of the last seven games against South, including 41-0 last year and 40-0 in 2011.
“Losing to them the last two years by big scores, it felt great to score three TDs on them my senior year,” Keel said.
Keel, an Indiana commitment, caught four passes for 97 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Josh Shim had his best game of the year, completing 10 of 18 passes for 160 yards with three TDs and one interception.
“It started up from with our offensive line,” Small said. “Those guys gave Josh Shim time to throw the ball. Obviously, Coray he’s a great leader. He’s an unselfish kid.”
The defense had its shining moments as well, making a clutch fourth-down stop in the second quarter and sacking Grayson QB Chase Brice five times. Dominique Jackson led the South defense with eight tackles, Ziah Gibson had seven tackles along with a punt block and fumble recovery, Donavan Kelly posted six tackles and 2.5 sacks and Andrew Buckmire had six tackles each and one interception.
The only blemish on the defense was Grayson’s running game. The Rams’ Cameryn Brent rushed for 217 yards on 27 carries.
South and Grayson scored on their first possessions to start the game. Keel caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Shim. The Rams responded with Brice scrambling and throwing a 32-yard TD to Aares McCall to take a 7-6 lead with 5:33 left in the half. Brice was 7 of 20 passing for 123 yards with two TDs and one interception.
South threatened to score on its next possession, but Shim was intercepted by Jordon Hayes at five. The Rams put together an 18-play, 88-yard drive that took up 8:12, but couldn’t come away with any points. Grayson reached the Comets’ seven and was hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty, Kelly and Sean Rockhead combined for a sack on third down and Chris Skyers knocked down a pass in the endzone on fourth down.
“We’ve always seemed to concede in that situation in the past,” Small said. “They showed a lot of guts by fighting there.”
South needed just four plays to regain the lead. Keel caught a 62-yard touchdown pass from Shim. Trevon Vallery added the two-point conversion from Shim to put the Comets ahead 14-7 with 4:49 left in the half.
Grayson threatened to score again, but a chop block and a sack by Rockhead forced the Rams to punt. Grayson had nine penalties for 85 yards in the first half and 13 for 113 yards in the game.
Ziah came off the edge and blocked the punt and Patrick Richards scooped it up for a 37-yard return to put the Comets ahead 21-7 with 39 seconds left in the half. Ziah also had a fumble recovery to start the second half.
“That was big game changer. It was a killer for them,” Keel said.
Grayson put together an 11-play, 73-yard drive with Brent scoring on a 25-yard run up the middle to cut South’s lead to 21-14 with 6:19 left in the third quarter.
“I knew they would come out strong,” Small said. “We settled down and played better.”
South Gwinnett was aided by a defensive holding call by Grayson and then freshman Elijah Shah caught a 27-yard pass. That set up Keel’s third touchdown, a 10-yard score from Shim with 6:24 left in the game to go ahead 28-14.
Grayson managed to put together one more scoring drive in the final minutes of the game. Jordan Hayes caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Brice with 22 seconds left.
“This is going to give us momentum the rest of the season,” Keel said. “We have to stay humble. We’re trying to win out the rest of the year and get in the playoffs.”
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SOUTH GWINNETT 28, GRAYSON 21
Grayson 7 0 7 7 — 21
South Gwinnett 6 15 0 7 — 28
South Gwinnett: Coray Keel 17 pass from Josh Shim (kick failed) 8:47
Grayson: Aares McCall 32 pass from Chase Brice (Austin Hoyt kick) 5:33
South Gwinnett: Keel 62 pass from Shim (Trevon Vallery two-point conversion) 4:49
South Gwinnett: Patrick Richards 37 punt block return (Roberto Lindsay kick) :39
Grayson: Cameryn Brent 25 run (Hoyt kick) 6:19
South Gwinnett: Keel 7 pass from Shim (Lindsay kick) 6:24
Grayson: Jordan Hayes 13 pass from Brice (Hoyt kick) :22
Grayson -- South Gwinnett
Rushes-yards 48-247 27-92
Comp-Att-Int 7-20-1 10-18-1
Passing yards 123 160
Penalties-yards 13-113 6-68
Fumbles-lost 4-1 0-0
RUSHING — Grayson: Cameryn Brent 27-217; Aares McCall 3-5; Mohammed Barry 7-31; Earnest Tiller 3-22; Kiminzki Flint 2-4. South Gwinnett: Trevon Vallery 19-65; Josh Shim 7-24; Tuwile Wilson 1-3.
PASSING — Grayson: Chase Brice 7-20-1, 123. South Gwinnett: Josh Shim 10-18-1, 160.
RECEIVING — Grayson: Cedric Asseh 2-43; Cameryn Brent 2-21; Aares McCall 1-32; Earnest Tiller 1-14; Jordan Hayes 1-13. South Gwinnett: Coray Keel 4-97; Ian Killian 3-28; Greg Hollingsworth 1-5; Noel Hussey 1-3; Elijah Shah 1-27.
HIGHLIGHTS: South Gwinnett vs. Grayson Football
Highlights from the South Gwinnett vs. Grayson football game on Oct. 18, 2013.