By MICHAEL ALPERT
For the AJC
In a defensive struggle for the Region 8-AAAAA championship Friday night, Grayson got precisely the defensive play it needed — just in time.
Kasey Gaines intercepted a pass and returned it 15 yards for the winning touchdown with 27 seconds left to lift the Rams over visiting Brookwood, 14-7. The interception occurred when Broncos quarterback Zack Moon was flushed from the pocket and attempted a shovel pass near the sideline.
The Rams’ third win in their last four tries against the Broncos gave them a third region championship in the last four years and relegated defending state champion Brookwood likely to the third playoff seed in region, behind Dacula. Still, the unbeaten Rams, ranked No. 2 in Georgia and No. 5 by USA Today, haven’t lost a regular-season home game since 2006 and continue to allow opponents only a touchdown a game.
“Winning is winning,” Grayson coach Mickey Conn said of now five of the teams’ last six meetings being determined by 10 or fewer points. “I feel we’re where we need to be. I feel good about this program.”
Brookwood tied 7-7 when Moon passed 21 yards to Michael Gouge with 4:43 left in the third quarter. The Broncos had opportunity to add to that after holding special-purpose running back Robert Nkemdiche’s attempt on fourth-and-1 at Grayson’s 37-yard line with 5:28 to play, but wound up punting. The Broncos also missed an opportunity with 59 seconds left in the third quarter, when Brandon Morrow’s 39-yard field goal attempt sailed wide.
It was the defensive struggle many anticipated, not unlike Brookwood’s 10-0 win last season, when the Broncos limited the Rams to just 89 yards of offense. This time, offense was similarly hard to come by, particularly during intermittent rain, as Grayson (9-0, 7-0) gained just 223 and Brookwood (6-3, 5-2) only 184.
Grayson had the ball nearly three times longer than Brookwood in the first half, but had only a 7-0 lead to show for it. Nkemdiche capped the Rams’ opening 14-play drive with a 7-yard touchdown run with 4:18 left in the first quarter. Grayson nearly scored again as the half ended, but couldn’t get off a 23-yard field goal attempt as the half expired.
“(Grayson wins) the right way,” Brookwood coach Mark Crews said. “They play great defense and keep away with the football.”