By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
If there has been a nemesis for Graham since the G-Men joined the Mountain Empire District, it would be Grayson County.
Up next for the G-Men are the Blue Devils in what will homecoming tonight at Mitchell Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
It has a full week of activities for Graham, from a parade on Thursday night to a Tuesday night practice because of parent-teacher conferences.
“We talk about staying focused on the task at hand and not allowing all these other things to become distractions for them,” Graham head coach Mike Williams said. “I guess we will find out tomorrow night if that has been the case or not.”
Graham (2-3) has yet to beat Grayson County (3-2) in Williams’ two-year tenure with the G-Men, including a pair of defeats in 2011 in which he felt his squad was ‘outmanned’ and a lopsided 36-17 setback last season.
“Last year the Grayson game was similar to the Bluefield game this year, we just didn’t show up,” Williams said. “I felt like last season we were really competitive in every game except that one and I don’t think that was a lack of manpower, for whatever reason we just didn’t show up and play very well that day.
“I don’t think last year’s game was indicative of what last year’s team was capable of.”
No one is harping on the past. The importance of his contest comes down to being the MED opener, and both clubs need wins to improve their 2A-West rating points used to determine playoff positioning.
“They know it is a big game because it is a district game and a 2-A West game so it is really big for those reasons, not anything to do with year’s past,” Williams said.
Graham has had two weeks to prepare for Grayson County, having had a bye week following a 56-42 loss to Giles. The G-Men have scored at least 26 points in all five games this year, but have allowed 60, 27 and 56 in defeats.
Four different G-Men had double digits in tackles in the loss to the Spartans, led by Hunter Cook with 16 and 14 from Adam Carbaugh, who leads the team with 71 stops. Cook is second with 61.
“It is just over time the kids will get more comfortable with what they are doing and the more comfortable they get the better we will play on defense so hopefully as time progresses you will see our guys get more comfortable,” said Williams, who lost Roman Workman at least for the regular season with a hip injury suffered against Giles. “The defense, when it has been good, it has been good, and when it has been bad, it has been bad.
“We shut out Grundy and we held Tazewell to 14, seven of which came pretty late in the game, but when it went bad, it was bad.”
Grayson County has scored at least 41 points in three wins, and will be led by 6-foot-3, 204-pound senior Max Rodgers, who has become a familiar face for the G-Men.
“This will the fourth time we have gone up against him,” Williams said. “He is good, he is a big kid, a good thrower, a strong runner. You have got to tackle well against big kids, he is as big as a lot of high school linemen.”
Ty Cannaday is a talented receiver, while the three-headed running back duo is paced by Raymond Cox, John Bilbrey and James Williams.
“(Cannaday) is real good, they throw to him a lot and they run the split-back, veer option, the same that they have since I have been here and they execute it well,” Williams said. “You have really got to work hard to stop the dive and trap game and make them do something other than that.
“That is kind of what we have given our attention to this week is stopping the dive and trap... They are not fancy runners, they run hard and downhill and when you run a hard, downhill dive, before you blink they have got four yards.”
Offensively, Graham hasn’t had issues scoring points, led by Dylan Cook, who has run for 521 yards and six touchdowns, while Charlie Benfield — who is ready to play after being injured against Giles — has 326 yards and three scores.
The Graham offensive line pushed Giles around, much like the Spartans did to the G-Men, and these Blue Devils will also provide a similar challenge up front.
“They are not as big as they have been, they had a big senior class last year, but they are still good,” Williams said. “They are still going to be a playoff team, they are still a team to contend with even if they are not quite as big.
“They have still got a strong quarterback, they play aggressive defense (and Cannaday) is a real good player. Sitting on the sideline watching the game, he stands out to you.”
Colby Hill has thrown for 766 yards and nine scores, while freshman DeQuan Booker has snagged 16 receptions for 265 yards and a touchdown. Bryce Farris has 11 catches, while tight end Mark Large has seven.
Williams is a stickler for winning the turnover battle, and this game will be no different.
“I would really like to have a zero turnover night, we don’t want to give them any points, “ Williams said. “We don’t always have to score, but we have got to consistently move the ball at a minimum to make them work.
“If we can move the football and have zero turnovers then I think the points will take care of themselves.”
Graham will start the MED slate with the top three teams in the district over the last two years, beginning with the Blue Devils, followed by Galax and Fort Chiswell.
That isn’t a problem for the G-Men.
“That is a tough three, but that is what Graham has always been about is tough competition,” Williams said. “We will line up and play anybody anytime, anywhere, I don’t think you do yourself any favors lining up against cupcakes every week to pad your win-loss record.
“We are 2-3 and with the exception of the Bluefield game I felt like we were the competitive in the other games and it just didn’t go our way. I think in the Bluefield game we just didn’t show up too well that night.”
Williams is hoping for better results tonight, as the G-Men look to celebrate homecoming with victory.
“The kids probably get more into it than the coaches, it is another game for us, they are all big, there will probably be some alums that come in and this will be the one time they see Graham,” Williams said. “No matter when or where we play, we always want to put a product on the field that the community can be proud of.”
—Contact Brian Woodson