GRAYSON — In almost every sport, speed kills.
And Grayson had plenty to burn and put it on full display Friday night as the Rams sprinted out to a big halftime lead and then held on for a 44-26 victory over Mill Creek in the Class AAAAAAA semifinals at Grayson Community Stadium.
Big plays on offense and tight coverage on defense made life difficult for Mill Creek the entire game. The Rams had scoring plays of 18, 10, 25, and 42 yards in the first half.
A speedy and quick secondary held Mill Creek quarterback Cameron Turley to just 18-for-42 passing, though he did amass 224 yards.
Mill Creek coach Shannon Jarvis was left with little to say but “Wow.”
“That’s probably the fastest high school football team I’ve ever coached against and when you have that kind of speed you can put a lot of pressure on people. And they put a lot of pressure on us on both sides of the ball,” Jarvis said. “We didn’t really have a lot of breakdowns. They just ran past us. We didn’t execute as well as we needed to at times but a lot of that was due to their speed.”
Many expected both teams to have to make some plays in the passing game with two of the best rush defenses in Georgia waiting for the offenses.
Grayson quarterback Chase Brice set the tone in the first half. The Clemson-commit was 14-of-21 passing for 258 yards and tossed four touchdown passes before halftime.
But the first quarter saw both teams counter-punch, though Grayson scored on its first two possessions. The Rams held Mill Creek to a quick three-and-out to start the game and got excellent field position when Hawks’ punter Matt Campbell was pressured into just a 9-yard punt. Four plays later Brice connected with Elijah Barnes for an 18-yard touchdown pass for a 6-0 lead after the extra point was missed.
Mill Creek was held to another three-and-out on its second drive and the Rams’ Will VanPamelen drilled a 41-yard field goal for a 9-0 lead just six minutes into the game.
The Hawks finally got their offense going on their third drive. Cameron Turley was 3-for-3 for 50 yards, Joe Thomas ran three times for 13 yards, and Edmond Graham capped the 81-yard drive with a 19-yard run to cut the lead to 9-7 with 2:40 left in the first quarter.
Grayson displayed its quick-strike ability over the next 12 minutes exploding for 29 consecutive points. Brice was the catalyst taking advantage of the Hawks secondary with touchdown passes of 10-yards to Kurt Taylor, 25-yards to Evan Sturgill, and 42-yards to Jamyest Williams with 1:11 left in the half and a 38-7 lead. Brice was especially deadly on third down, where he was 8-for-9 passing to keep drives alive.
The three TD passes were sandwiched around a wild 44-yard interception return for a touchdown by Quintin Thames. Turley found Jack Plummer with what appeared to be a short 4-yard gain, but Plummer bobbled the ball and Thomas grabbed the ball and raced untouched for the score.
Mill Creek finally snapped a the run with a 2-yard pass from Turley to Adrian Jackson with 25 seconds left to cut the score to 38-14 by halftime.
“Despite the deficit the guys were upbeat and positive and we just talked about coming out making some plays and don’t look at the scoreboard,” Jarvis said about their halftime discussion.
Mill Creek stopped the Rams on their opening drive and then cut into the lead at 38-20 on a 21-yard touchdown run by Joe Thomas on the Hawks’ first possession of the second half. Grayson responded right back, however, with a drive that culminated in a 35-yard field goal by VanPamelen with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
Mill Creek answered that moving to the Grayson 23 on a pair of 15-yard penalties with 41 seconds left in the third quarter. Turley later capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to pull the Hawks within 41-26 with 10:48 left in the fourth quarter.
Mill Creek had three more chances to cut into the lead driving into Grason territory. But each time they were denied on fourth down passes by the Rams defense.
VanPamelen sealed any comeback attempts with a 20-yard field goal with 39 seconds left in the game to make it a three-possession game.
“I’m proud of the guys with how they didn’t quit and kept fighting to the end,” Jarvis said.”This has a been a special group to coach.”
Joe Thomas finished with 80 yards rushing to pace Mill Creek.
One week after limiting McEachern to zero yards rushing, Grayson was able to pound out 158 yards for the game.
Mill Creek....7.......7....6....6 -- 26
Grayson.......9.....29....3....3 -- 44
G -- Barnes 18 pass from Brice (kick failed) 6-0, 10:28
G -- VanPamelen 41 FG 9-0, 5:22
M -- Graham 19 run (King kick) 9-7, 2:40 #wdun
G -- Taylor 10 pass from Brice (VanPamelen kick) 16-7, 8:31
G -- Sturgill 25 pass from Brice (VanPamelen kick) 23-7, 4:18
G -- Quintin Thames 44 INT return (VanPamelen kick) 30-7, 3:55
G -- Jamyest Williams 42 pass from Brice (Thompson run) 38-7, 1:11
M -- Jackson 2 pass from Turley (King kick) 38-14, 0:25
M -- Thomas 21 run (pass failed) 38-20, 4:40
G -- VanPamelen 35 FG 41-20, 1:56
M -- Turley 7 run (kick failed) 41-26, 10:48
G -- VanPamelen 20 FG 44-26, 0:39