Grayson did what dominant teams do. It controlled the line of scrimmage on both side of the football en route to a victory in the opening round of the GHSA Class AAAAAAA Playoffs.
The Rams offense line blew the defense backwards to open gaping holes for their backs and the Rams defense line closed off any opening to shut down the opposing offense. When the clock hit zero, Grayson head coach Christian Hunnicutt was pleased with his team’s 31-14 win over perennial power Norcross.
His offense rushed for 31 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries while limiting the Blue Devils to just 22 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
“It’s good to get the first win in the playoffs out of the way,” Hunnicutt said. “I was proud of the way they played against a really well coached group.”
Friday’s matchup at Grayson Community Stadium is one that is normally saved for the Georgia Dome, as both teams have combined to win four of the last six state championships at the highest classification in Georgia.
They met in the first round after Grayson (10-1) claimed the No. 2 seed in Region 8 and Norcross (5-6) reached the No. 3 seed in Region 7.
The Rams ran the football right down the gullet of the Blue Devils on the opening possession of the game without throwing the football. Grayson took the lead on a 14-yard touchdown scamper from running back Camron Thompson, his first of three touchdowns of the game. However, quarterback DJ Irons carried the load for the Rams on the opening drive. Of the 65 yards gained on the drive, 55 came from the legs of Irons.
“They tried to blitz and pass rush and we were just seeing the gaps and hitting them and the O-line, they were blocking so nice tonight,” Irons said.
The success of the run set up the play-action pass, which is how the Rams scored their second touchdown of the game late in the first quarter. Irons faked the give to Thompson and fired a pass over the middle to junior Kenyon Jackson who finished off the 41-yard touchdown reception to put Grayson up 14-3.
The defense took over from there. Starting with the front four led by defensive tackles Tru Thompson and Caelan Johnson and defensive ends Ryan Taylor and Kevin Harris, the Norcross run game couldn’t find space to breathe. And if the Blue Devils’ found a hole, linebacker Owen Pappoe, Solomon Egbe and Herbert Winborne didn’t let them get more than a yard or two.
“We wanted to try to commit numbers to stopping the run. We wanted to make people left-handed,” Hunnicutt said. “Defensively our kids take a lot of pride in stopping the run so I think that is where our defensive plan starts.”
The teams traded field goals in the second and third quarters by Norcross’s Jake Camarda and Grayson’s Will Van Pamelen to give the Rams a 17-6 lead heading into the fourth.
After a long pass play from Irons to senior Jarquavius Lane, Thompson punched his second touchdown of the evening into the end zone from 8 yards out.
“They were playing back on the pads too much and our O-line was able block the defensive ends inside and we were able to run outside,” Thompson said.
The Rams defense made the game a little interesting up 24-6 after the Thompson touchdown as they committed four defense penalties for 55 yards on the ensuing Blue Devils drive to help Norcross’ Louis Williams score a six-yard rushing touchdown. Williams hit tight end Shelton Zeon on the 2-point conversion to cut the deficit to 24-14 with 5:53 left in the game.
Grayson recovered the attempted onside kick. Three plays later Thompson found the end zone again capping his impressive day, which his coach said was partly thanks to the blocking from his wide receivers.
“I’ll tell you what, our wide receivers are very selfless,” Hunnicutt said. “When their number is called they run their route, but they take as much pride in blocking as they do in running routes.”
Grayson will travel to North Gwinnett to take on the Bulldogs next Friday. North Gwinnett is the No. 1 seed from Region 6 and are coming off a first round win over the No. 4 seed North Forsyth, 55-7.
“I told our kids moving forward that we certainly have a tremendous challenge in North Gwinnett in that they are unbelievably talented and incredibly well coached,” Hunnicutt said. “And that they have an offensive line that will fight and compete down in and down out.
“(North Gwinnett head coach) Bill Stewart is… If he is not the best, I mean, in terms of an elite head coach then I don’t know who is.”
10:01 – 7-0: 14-yard run by Camron Thompson
4:50 – 7-3: 48-yard field goal by Jake Camarda
2:28 – 14-3: 41-yard pass from DJ Irons to Kenyon Jackson
4:11 – 17-3: 44-yard field goal by Will Van Pamelen
:03 – 17-6: 43-yard field goal by Jake Camarda
9:18 – 24-6: 8-yard run by Camron Thompson
5:53 – 24-14: 5-yard run by Louis Williams (2-point conv. GOOD)
4:46 – 31-14: 15-yard run by Camron Thompson
QB Louis Williams: 18/32, 177 yards, 1 interception; 9 carries, 23 yards, 1 touchdown
RB Clay Harris: 9 carries, 14 yards
WR Isaiah McKoy: 4 catches, 72 yards
QB DJ Irons: 10/21, 155 yards, 1 touchdown; 12 carries, 90 yards
RB Camron Thompson: 24 carries, 203 yards, 3 touchdowns
WR Kenyon Jackson: 4 catches, 72 yards, 1 touchdown
WR Jaquavius Lane: 4 catches, 64 yards