Union’s recipe for success was pound and ground.
The three-headed rushing attack of Jake McCray, Ben Baugh and Mekyah Davis ran for 335 yards and five touchdowns, and the Bears defeated Graham 34-28 in the opening round of the West Section, Division 2 playoffs on Saturday night at Mitchell Stadium.
Union (8-3) will host Stuarts Draft (8-4) next week in Big Stone Gap, Va. The Bears lost to that same team in the playoffs last season by a field goal. Stuarts Draft is coached by Bluefield High School product Tommy Goforth.
“Last year was a heartbreaker the way that game ended when they kicked a field goal with about 30 seconds to go in the game,” Union head coach Travis Turner said. “Hopefully we can get healthy and get prepared and have a great week of practice and have a home game.”
Graham (8-3) would have hosted with a win, but the Bears ran the ball 68 times, with McCray (26-191, 2 td), Baugh (34-119, 2 td) and Davis (8-24) running behind a huge offensive line that pushed the smaller G-Men off the line.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of fancy things going on really out of either team, just line up and run it and play smash-mouth football,” Turner said. “Our offensive line, before we came out we told them we are putting it on your back, you will win us this game and I think they did.
“They had 10 or 11 people at the line of scrimmage and we’re still able to get 3 or 4 yards a carry and we are pretty happy with those 3 or 4 yards.”
Graham never led in the game, but was able to tie the score at 13-13 going into the final quarter, but all those running plays may have eventually worn down the G-Men on defense.
“We went down by 3 at the half which is fine, that is a good position to be in,” Williams said. “We go into the fourth quarter tied and the premise behind that offense is they wear you down and I guess that is exactly what they did.”
Graham also had four turnovers, two of which led to two of Union’s three fourth quarter touchdowns, and the G-Men were also called for 115 yards on 10 penalties and had a player ejected near the end of the game.
The G-Men their season at 7-4, but were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs for a second straight season.
“We are not satisfied, this is a game we thought we could win and we didn’t,” Williams said. “We are disappointed about our performance tonight, but we will take a couple of weeks off and start gearing up for next year.”
A fumble recovery by Cody Craft and interception by Trey Lomax in the final quarter gave the Bears good field position in the fourth quarter, and they scored a pair of touchdowns in just over six minutes to build a 27-13 lead with 2:13 left in the game.
“I am very disappointed with how we all played and honestly I think we should be playing next Saturday,” Graham quarterback Spencer Sheets said..“You have got to give credit to them, they all came to play, you could tell they watched film and they ran the ball very well and we just didn’t have an answer for them.”
Sheets used his arm and shiftiness with his legs to set up a 29-yard field goal by Samuel Stowers to tie the score in the third, and he continued to play havoc with the Bears in the final period, finishing with 100 yards on the ground and 179 through the air.
Charlie Benfield had 118 yards on four receptions, and Cody Hatfield, who was held to 37 yards on the ground, had 81 through the air on five catches.
“(Spencer) is good in space, he makes things happen and it might have been a few things we could have done earlier in the game, but at the end of the day you have got to stop that pound and ground that they do and we didn’t do a good job of that,” Williams said. “At the end of the day they walked away victorious.”
Sheets’ 10-yard scoring pass to Colby Hill narrowed the lead to 27-20 with 1:26, but the onside kick was unsuccessful, and Hunter Cook was ejected during a skirmish following that play. Union added a touchdown on a 24-yard run by McCray. Sheets able to score as time expired, but it was too little for the G-Men.
“We want to control the clock and control the tempo of the game and all three of our running backs ran hard and they blocked hard for each other,” Turner said. “We just executed the game plan and what we wanted to do.”
Union led 6-0 after the opening period on a 9-yard run by Davis after a fake punt by Graham was unsuccessful at their own 14. Stowers cut the lead to 6-3 on a 24-yard field goal after Adam Carbaugh caused a fumble and picked it up for the G-Men.
The Bears’ offensive line then took control, going 65 yards on 16 plays, with Baugh scoring from the 1. Williams certainly saw what the G-Men need to work on in the offseason.
“I think we are going just going to have to focus on putting on some weight and strength over the next year,” he said. “We were 7-4 strong and size-wise this year, but that is something where we are going to have to continue to grow and get bigger and stronger.”
Graham closed the margin to 13-10 at the break on a short pass by Colby Hill to Hatfield, who ran 31 yards for the touchdown.
Union outscored Graham 21-13 in the fourth quarter, as several seniors played their final game for the G-Men.
“That is a good senior class, it was fun to get to coach those guys, it was an honor to get to coach them,” Williams said. “We are going to miss them, they provided a lot of leadership and a lot of productivity for this team.
“We wish them well as they go forward with their careers.”
Sheets was the leader of a Graham team that won just one game when he was a sophomore. That mark improved to 5-6 last year and 7-4 in Williams’ second year at the helm.
“I had a great run with these guys, I don’t regret a thing,” Sheets said. “I wish I could keep playing with them because I am going to miss it.
“This is our last chance, but hopefully we will be the start of a new legacy. Hopefully next year they will keep building up and they will just get better.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
Union’s recipe for success was pound and ground.
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