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December 10, 2011
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Acting almost as surprised as he was elated, head coach Mickey Conn accepted the Georgia Class AAAAA state championship trophy following his Loganville (Ga.) Grayson shutout over Marietta (Ga.) Walton.
"Look what we've done," he said of the 24-0 win Friday night.
Conn, the only coach the school has known in its 12-year history, celebrated its first state title and win No. 100 on the same night.
"We feel blessed to be here," he said. "We have only been a school for a short time and look at what we have done."
As simple as it sounds, Conn may not know exactly what it means.
The effort was dominant from start to finish.
It was as impressive a victory as most any this season and could vault the Rams from No. 9 in the RivalsHigh 100 into the Top Five or higher.
The Rams have had moments in the spotlight before - a preseason No. 5 ranking two seasons ago was a high-water mark - but never had they been able to finish the season with a state title.
This year the team embarked on the season with a mantra to "Finish the Mission." And with its performance Friday, it certainly did.
"This means everything to us," senior Devin Gillespie said. "We worked hard in every practice and on every play."
The effort showed all through the playoffs as Grayson went through national powers Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes and Moultrie (Ga.) Colquitt County before downing Walton.
Its win over Walton was a statement game as it held the Raiders to as many punts as first downs - seven.
It kept Walton off of its side of the field until the last three minutes of the fourth quarter.
It dominated time of possession with a powerful running game.
And, like a veteran team, it took the air out of the ball in the second half.
Grayson only lined up in one formation with a receiver in the entire second half - it motioned him back into the power formation and ran a jet sweep.
The Rams did not pass in the second half and only threw the ball three times in the game.
Two of the passes went for touchdowns to Callen Hightower.
"We just came out and executed," quarterback Nick Schuessler said. "We have to thank our coaches for putting us in this position."
Schuessler completed all three passes he attempted for 108 yards and those two scores.
Most of the evening he spent handing the ball off to a bevy of running backs led by a potential five-star defensive end in the Class of 2013, Robert Nkemdiche.
Nkemdiche opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 4-yard plunge into the end zone.
The drive went 10 plays and 42 yards - of which eight were Nkemdiche runs for 35 yards.
"Robert got going for us," Conn said before halftime. "It was big for us to get up early."
Once the Rams got up, it used a smothering defense that was thrown like a wet blanket on Walton.
"The defense was playing fast," Conn said.
It held Walton to just 12 total yards in the first half and negative-19 yards rushing.
Following the second punt of the first half, Grayson connected on a 35-yard field goal by Kalen Rhodes. It was the first field goal of the entire season for Grayson.
The Schussler touchdown passes both came in the second quarter.
A 55-yard strike to Hightower on a play-action pass that left the receiver wide open pushed the lead to 17-0. Then, following a 68-yard Ryan Carter punt return to the Walton 11, Schuessler went to Hightower again just before halftime.
The second half was a slow and steady march to the finish as Grayson ran the clock and the football, limiting both teams to just three possessions each.
Two Walton punts and a turnover on downs were intertwined with two Grayson punts and the victory formation.
But even in the end Conn may not know what he did, or what he has.
"The defense played great," he said. "Woo, they are physical."
They are also young.
With nine returning starters - including Nkemdiche - Conn may start next season with another slogan: Look what we can do.
A potential national championship should be on the list.
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