By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
To the dismay of most everyone in Grayson Nation, head coach Mickey Conn doesn’t like to make Robert Nkemdiche the feature running back in the Rams’ offense.
But Friday night against Lowndes, Conn decided to let the big dog eat. Nkemdiche, considered by some to be the nation’s best high school junior, carried 16 times for 61 yards and three touchdowns, to go along with three sacks, to lead Grayson (12-0) to a 25-17 win over the Vikings (8-4) in the second round of the state playoffs.
The Rams will be at home again next week for Round Three when they host West Forsyth, which pulled perhaps the biggest upset of the season in knocking off previously unbeaten Hillgrove, 40-28.
“Well, when you’ve got a kid who’s 270 pounds and runs a 4.6 [40 yard dash], I guess you better give him the ball,” Conn said afterward. “Robert’s been getting better and better every week as a running back.”
Nkemdiche has said since the first time he touched the ball last season that he wouldn’t mind carrying more of the load, shared mostly by senior Devin Gilespie and junior Wayne Gallman. Friday night was the busiest he has been as a running back.
“That was the game plan all week, so I was ready for it,” Nkemdiche said. “I’m in great shape because my coaches keep me that way, so I’m not tired at all. I’m good.”
Grayson drew first blood on its opening drive when senior quarterback Nick Schuessler hit senior Marcus Lindquis behind the Lowndes secondary for a 43-yard touchdown pass. But the Rams missed the extra point, a precursor to several mistakes that kept the game tight for most of the first half.
Grayson fumbled on its next possession but the Ram defense forced Lowndes to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Sean Smith. On the ensuing kickoff, Grayson fumbled again and Lowndes recovered at the Ram 21 yard line. Three plays later, Viking quarterback Lance Jarriel hit Josh Clemons with a 17-yard strike over the middle for a touchdown that put Lowndes up 10-6 at the end of the first quarter.
After a Lowndes punt to begin the second quarter, the Rams went on one of their patented physical, run-between-the-tackles drives that covered 47 yards and just over six minutes. Nkemdiche stomped in over the left side from two yards out to make the score 12-10 Rams, but Grayson missed the extra point again.
But the Ram defense, which held Lowndes’ vaunted running game in check most of the night, forced a turnover on the Vikings’ next offensive series when Jarriel was stripped by Gallman. Junior linebacker Jack Banda recovered at the Lowndes’13 yard line. Nkemdiche did the rest, rushing for seven and six yards, consecutively, to push the Ram lead to 19-10.
“We love playing South Georgia teams,” Nkemdiche said. “I’m so proud of our team. This was a total team effort, and we’ll be ready for whoever we play next week.”
Lowndes 10 0 0 7 17
Grayson 6 13 0 6 25
G – Marcus Lindquis 43 pass from Nick Schuessler (kick failed)
L – Sean Smith 27 fg
L – Josh Clemons 17 pass from Lance Jarriel (Smith kick)
G – Robert Nkemdiche 2 run (kick failed)
G – Nkemdiche 6 run (Callen Rhodes kick)
G – Nkemdiche 2 run (run failed)
L – Mike Moore 1 run (Smith kick)