Grayson 16, McEachern 13

Will VanPamelen kicked a 20-yard field goal on the final play of the game to lead Grayson to a 16-13 victory over host McEachern in a battle of two of the top teams in Class AAAAAAA Friday in Powder Springs.

The winning formula, as Rams coach Jeff Herron told his team afterwards, was “great defense, great special teams and an offense that found a way.”

VanPamelen kicked three field goals, and the Grayson defense limited the McEachern offense to no points and 100 total yards. The Indians’ only scores came on a punt return and an interception return. Second-ranked Grayson (1-1) finished with 254 yards of total offense.

“We’re still trying to find ourselves offensively,” Herron said. “We got better tonight, but we still didn’t play as well as we’re capable of. I think we’re a tired team right now and we’re a little beat up. After last week, playing on Saturday in a real emotional game, I was really worried about tonight. You could tell during the course of the week that we were tired, just wore out. But the kids found a way to win. It wasn’t the prettiest one I’ve ever seen, but we found a way to win.”

VanPamelen’s 33-yard field goal with 2:25 to play tied the score 13-13. McEachern was able to run just 20 seconds off the clock on its next possession before the Rams got the ball back on an interception by Treshun Willis. The Rams then drove from their 43 to the McEachern 3, the key play being a 35-yard pass from Chase Brice to DeAngelo Gibbs that moved the ball to the McEachern 4. Three plays and a penalty later, VanPamelen kicked the game-winner.

Third-ranked McEachern (1-1) took its only lead of the night on the first play of the fourth quarter, when C.J. Miller intercepted a Brice pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. The extra-point attempt failed, and McEachern’s lead was 13-10.

The Rams got inside the McEachern 20-yard line twice in the first half and came away with 10 points, but McEachern’s defense didn’t make it easy for them. On the first scoring drive, Grayson had a first down at the 14 and needed eight plays to score, eventually breaking through on a 1-yard fourth-down run by Kurt Taylor on the first play of the second quarter.

Later in the quarter, Grayson had a first down at the McEachern 5 but threw three consecutive incomplete passes and settled for a 22-yard field goal by VanPamelen with 14 seconds to play in the half for a 10-7 lead.

McEachern finished the first half with 37 yards but trailed by just three points, thanks to Tyler Smith’s 55-yard punt return midway through the second quarter that tied the game 7-7. Smith left the game late in the third quarter when he suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury while returning a punt. Smith, a North Carolina commitment, missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

Brice finished 17-for-27 passing for 175 yards. Taylor carried much of the workload for Grayson, rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.

McEachern rushed for just 44 yards, and Quay Holmes had 32 of them on nine carries. Quarterback Bailey Hockman was 6-for-23 for 56 yards with two interceptions.

“We talk to them all the time about one phase may not be great that night, and the other two have got to carry you,” Herron said. “We played great defensively, and our special teams played well. We’re just right on the verge of being a real good offense, and that’s going to come. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Grayson – 0-10-0-6 – 16

McEachern – 0-7-0-6 – 13

G – Kurt Taylor 1 run (Will VanPamelen kick)

M – Tyler Smith 55 punt return (Giovanni Dominguez kick)

G – VanPamelen 22 field goal

M – C.J. Miller 31 interception return (kick failed)

G – VanPamelen 33 field goal

G – VanPamelen 20 field goal