The Raiders, however, quickly were.
Grayson game-planned perfectly for Walton, evident by how the Rams were scoring and making stops in the first half. With that said, the Rams made their 24-0 victory at the Georgia Dome look routine.
“It was one of those things where we swung and whiffed,” Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo said. “That’s the way to describe it.”
Not many could expect Grayson to limit Walton’s bountiful running back, Tyren Jones, to a season-low 72 yards on 16 carries. And most of those yards came on a 52-yard run late in the fourth quarter, when the game was already out of reach.
Jones’ previous low was 81 yards, in Walton’s regular-season finale against Woodstock.
The speed of Grayson’s defense prevented Jones from making big gains and scoring a touchdown for the first time all season. The junior finished the season with 34 rushing touchdowns, and 38 total.
“He’s a great running back,” Grayson coach Mickey Conn said. “We just played our defense, and we just had to run very fast to get to him. Our pursuit drills, and a lot of tackles this week of practice, helped us prepare for (Jones).”
Defensively, the Raiders (14-1) had no answer for Robert Nkemdiche on Grayson’s opening touchdown drive, after the Rams’ Jay Strickland recovered a Myles Howard fumble. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Nkemdiche — a two-way star as a defensive lineman and a short-yardage running back — took advantage of the Walton miscue with eight carries for 35 yards on the drive, which was eventually capped by a 3-yard dive into the end zone.
Nkemdiche went on to finish with game with 81 yards on 17 carries.
Grayson quarterback Nick Schuessler threw for and completed only three passes, but two were for touchdowns and he totaled 108 yards through the air. Schuessler found a wide-open Callen Hightower for a 55-yard pass early in the second quarter to put the Rams (15-0) in front 17-0, and he capped Grayson’s scoring in the final minute of the half, when he found an open Hightower in the end zone for an 11-yard strike.
Grayson’s 35-yard field goal in the first quarter, which gave the Rams a 10-0 lead, was the result of Schuessler’s 45-yard deep pass to Corey Schaeffer on third-and-18.
Offensively, the Raiders had trouble adjusting to Grayson’s speed on the offensive side of the ball.
The Raiders were held to just 1 yard in the first quarter, and 13 for the half. Jones had trouble finding open lanes in the first half and went into the locker room with minus-1 yard on eight carries. Parker McLeod was sacked three times in the first half.
“We didn’t think we showed the state of Georgia how good of a team we were in the first half,” Hidalgo said.
It didn’t get much better for Walton on its first drive of the second half.
The Raiders ran 10 plays, chewing nearly 5 minutes of clock, but they only managed 10 yards before having to punt. The drive ended when Jones was stuffed and McLeod was sacked for a 12-yard loss.
Walton came close to averting the shutout late in the fourth quarter, when Jones’ 52-yard scamper put the Raiders on the Grayson 15, but the Raiders couldn’t get past the 6 before turning the ball over on downs.
“We felt like we played the second half like we wanted to play the ball game.” Hidalgo said.