The Rams, who lost in its first game of tournament play Saturday at Lassiter, needed back-to-back wins over Valdosta’s “A” team to claim the tournament, and they got them.
The first was difficult to come by. A defensive stop with 55 seconds left resulted in an 18-17 win. Grayson then came back to claim a more decisive 31-9 victory in the final matchup.
“This is something that we preach at Grayson, and that is being tenacious,” defensive coordinator Lenny Gregory said. “We preach being champions and competing for championships. We didn’t come here for the experience.”
With the title Grayson earned a place at the next week’s national tournament in Hoover, Ala. Lassiter, as the host of this weekend’s qualifier, was also guaranteed a national berth.
The Rams certainly practiced what they preached during their nine straight wins after losing a 22-21 battle to Lovejoy in the first round. Prior to their two games with Valdosta, Grayson had won all of its consolation games handily, with the exception of an 18-17 nail-biter over Northview.
In Grayson’s first game against Valdosta, Evan Sturgill caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Chase Brice, putting the Rams ahead by a touchdown with less than 10 minutes to play. Valdosta, however, answered with eight unanswered points on a touchdown — without the extra point — and a defensive stop.
Down one with less than a minute left, Grayson got a stop of its own, and the win when a Valdosta receiver dropped a touchdown pass thrown from the 1-yard line.
During the opening minutes of the winner-take-all game, the Rams’ offense scored touchdowns, their defense made stops and they built a comfortable 17-0 lead with 12 minutes left.
Valdosta chipped away at the lead when Lafabeon Darity made an interception in the end zone. Todd Bradley then caught a deep pass in the left corner of the end zone to bring the Wildcats within eight points with over 5 minutes left to play, prompting Valdosta to call a timeout.
But Grayson pulled away with two late touchdowns and a stop.
Grayson needed to get through Hillgrove in the losers’ bracket for a shot at a championship consolation and a quick start by the Rams led to a 27-17 win.
The Hawks, who trekked their way to the semifinals of the winners’ bracket before falling 18-17 to Hoover (Ala.), couldn’t get anything going to start the game and were in a 20-0 hole with 12 minutes remaining.
Austin Woods had an interception to put Hillgrove on the board, and the Hawks scored their first touchdown on a wide-open strike from Bryson Parks to Jeremiah Bridges.
But Grayson responded with a catch-and-run touchdown to maintain its distance.
Earlier in the day, Hillgrove advanced with wins over Kell, Lassiter and Northview. Once the Hawks fell into the losers’ bracket, they took a 17-point lead over Lovejoy before winning 28-19.
Grayson also ended North Cobb’s tournament run deep in consolation play, winning 34-8.
After a perfect record in pool play Friday, South Cobb lost a high-scoring 30-29 bout with North Cobb in the quarterfinals of the winners’ bracket. The Eagles were unable to recover in the losers’ bracket, falling 31-16 to Cherokee.