It was altogether fitting that the 2013 Grady Knights football season would come to a close in the first round of the state playoffs after yet another controversial game, forcing the Knights to fall like the rain that poured upon them throughout the entirety of their final game. As the lower-seeded team, the Knights were forced to travel to Gainesville, where they suffered a loss that would turn their chances of a round trip of high hopes into a one-way ticket to despair.
Freshman quarterback Caylin Newton found himself in a peculiar situation in his first state playoff game as a starter. With starting quarterback Isiah Jenkins injured, head coach Ronnie Millen made the decision to limit play time for the senior and move him back to his preferred position as a running back in the first round of the class AAAA state playoffs.
“With the growth I had seen in [Newton] as the season went on, we thought it would be best to make him our guy for the job, especially with Isiah being hurt,” Millen said.
After defeating Lithonia for the second time in the region play-in game 25-22, the Knights were ranked third in Region 6. They faced off against No. 2 seed Chestatee High School. With Newton under center, the Knights scored on the first play of the game from scrimmage on a touchdown pass to junior receiver Marlon Character. After the Chestatee offense turned the ball over on downs in its first possession, the Knights drove down the field to score once more after a run from Hakeem Todd, making the score 13-0 after only five minutes of play.
“After the first two touchdowns, we were confident that we would come out of the game with a win,” Smith said.
As it turns out, that second touchdown marked Grady’s high point in a game that quickly unraveled. A mishandled snap caused Grady to miss the point-after attempt, and the Knights would not score another point. After a barrage of penalties against Grady, a few disputed calls and spots from the referees in favor of Chestatee, and sloppy game play from both teams throughout the remainder of the game, the War Eagles went on to score 41 unanswered points and win the game by a score of 41-13.
“We didn’t play our best,” Jenkins said. “We came out strong, but when [Chestatee] started scoring and getting some bad calls, it seemed like most of the team lost hope. It seemed like we couldn’t make any good plays without a flag being thrown.”
Though the missed extra point was not the true cause of the loss, special teams errors have consistently plagued the Knights this season and in seasons past. Last season, Grady suffered all three of its losses due to errors from the special teams unit. In a 28-14 loss to Riverdale, two kickoffs were returned for touchdowns in the two-touchdown loss. Later that season in the region championship against Carver, a punt was blocked and a kickoff was returned for a touchdown as the Knights lost 22-19. Grady’s season against Monroe Area ended dramatically in overtime as a botched extra point led to sudden playoff death as Grady lost by a single point, 21-20. Had Grady won, the third-seeded Knights would have had home field advantage against fourth-seeded Effingham instead of having to travel as they had done in their 27-17 win over River Ridge in the first round of the state playoffs.
Grady’s special team woes did not end with the start of a new season, however, as the Knights lost the first game of the 2013 season in a heartbreakingly similar fashion. A missed extra point allowed for another Knights single-point loss to Decatur 7-6, leaving Coach Millen’s win total stalled at 99 once more.
Special-teams issues plagued the team throughout the season, yet they were not the only reason that the Knights suffered a 27-7 loss to Carver on Senior Night in the final game of the regular season. The Knights finished off the season with a record of 8-2.
“We worked hard to overcome our issues this season,” Jenkins said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to win.”
Despite the playoff loss to Chestatee this season, Grady currently has the most road playoff wins in Atlanta Public Schools since 1990. As Grady transitions into its next phase of football, a number of seniors will be lost to graduation: Ezequiel Chandler, Hakeem Todd, Isiah Jenkins, Malik Shannon, Kaseam Smith, Ted Galanos, Joseph Benton, Quantavious Swanson, Tarez Dixon, Widdie Gordon, Xavier Walker, Zavier Pounders, Bryce Harris, Darriun Shelton, Zac Carter and Deion Grimes.
“Even though we’re losing a lot of our senior leaders, we have to step up and play to the best ability that we can with the people we have left,” Smith said. “I feel that we can do just that.”