Mickey Conn, who built and nurtured the Grayson football from its inception to its maturation, was back home on Friday. It was like he never left.
Conn, now on the defensive staff at Clemson, watched his former school use the same recipe he perfected during his tenure at the school. The No. 1-ranked Rams (2-0) relied on defense and the running game and came away with an old-school 12-7 win over No. 9 McEachern (0-2) at Grayson Community Stadium.
Grayson, ranked as high as No. 6 in some national polls, had little luck against McEachern’s stout defense, led by Michael Fairbanks. The Rams withstood non-stop pressure by McEachern in the fourth quarter and hung on at the end.
After McEachern turned the ball over on downs at the Grayson 26 with less than five minutes remaining, the Rams ran the ball to the McEachern 21 and ate up most of the clock. McEachern got the ball back with 36 seconds left and ended the game on a Hail Mary that bounced harmlessly to the ground as the clock expired.
“At the end, the one time all game I thought we looked like Grayson, and were able to run the ball and knock out some first downs,” Grayson coach Christian Hunnicutt said. “That looked like the program that Mickey built. At the end that was a Grayson win – run the ball and play good defense. For him to see the fruits of his labor at the end was good.”
Ronald Thompkins rushed 16 times for 111 yards and one touchdown to lead the Grayson offense. Quarterback D.J. Irons completed 13 of 22 passes for 118 yards.
McEachern’s offense was led by running back Paris Brown, who carried 18 times for 88 yards.
“I’m proud of the kids for fighting it out,” Hunnicutt said. “Unbelievable effort by our defense. We put them in a lot of bad positions and defensively they responded all night. That was about an old-school defense punt-team win as you can have. For us to win that way was good.”
Grayson led the game 5-0 at the half. The Rams dominated play in the first two quarters, but committed an array of penalties to derail opportunities.
Grayson got its first points on the first play of the second quarter. McEachern’s Jeremiah Fulks had his punt blocked by Grayson’s Owen Pappoe. The ball flew out of the end zone for a safety and the Rams led 2-0.
Grayson’s other points came late in the second quarter. The Rams drove 12 plays and settled for Will Van Pamelen’s 35-yard field with 24.7 seconds remaining.
Grayson took a 12-0 lead with 9:05 remaining on Thompkins 5-yard run. The touchdown was set up when Herbert Winborne caused a fumble and Jaylen Rivers recovered for the Rams at the 10.
“We were in cover-two and Herbert saw the running back and filled the hole and caused the fumble,” Rivers said. “I recovered it. It really changed the momentum. We were back down on their end of the field and we got a touchdown out of that.”
McEachern responded with a 60-yard touchdown drive that was kept alive by a defensive holding penalty, a roughing penalty and an offsides call. McEachern’s Paris Brown scored on a 3-yard run.
“The first time we turned it over and the penalties…,” Hunnicutt said. “The guys were giving effort. We’re not upset because they’re effort mistakes. They were taking cheap shots, weren’t swinging at somebody, they weren’t running their mouths. They were aggressive penalties. We’ll address those.”
The Indians got their best chance to win the game when Thompkins fumbled on the second play. Ishmael Bridges recovered the ball and took over at the 50 following an illegal blocking penalty.
McEachern picked up two first downs and advanced to the 26, but came up short on four straight plays and turned it over on downs.