By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Two years ago, the Graham G-Men were in his same situation, and came out on top.
Time to do it again.
Graham traveled to Fort Chiswell two years ago considered a significant underdog and the G-Men returned with a surprising 10-7 win over the Pioneers on a cold, rainy night in Wythe County.
“We weren’t given much of a chance two years ago and the reason for that was the week before we played them they lost to Grayson by one point and Grayson beat us by 38,” Graham head coach Mike Williams said. “We were predicted to go down there and get beat pretty good, but that particular year we had tough kids and they thought they could go down there and win and they took pride in their fourth quarter play.
“We were down going into the fourth and won it in the fourth.”
Graham (4-4, 2-1) will seek its first win streak of the season tonight at Fort Chiswell (8-0, 3-0), which is currently the top-rated Group 1A-West team in Virginia. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
“They are very consistent team, they play good defense, good run defense, good pass defense, they run well, they throw well, special teams are solid,” Williams said. “They don’t have any glaring weaknesses.
“They are real good at every phase of the game. That is kind of what separates them, they are consistent and they good in all phases and that adds up to an undefeated season so far.”
While Graham enters having beaten Bland County 43-14, the Pioneers thrashed Grayson County 41-19, a 22-point win which was Fort Chiswell’s closest game among its six double-digit wins this season.
Still, Williams doesn’t think his G-Men will be intimidated by Fort Chiswell’s undefeated mark.
“They are a pretty seasoned group, I don’t think their record bothers these kids at all,” Williams said. “We are just going to go down there and play our game, all you can do is go down there and play as hard as you can and the score is going to be what it is.”
Graham will face the Pioneers with freshman Ben Meade getting his second start at quarterback.
Colby Hill, who didn’t play last week against Bland County, has injured his throwing shoulder will serve only as an emergency replacement tonight.
“Ben Meade is a winner, he is a warrior,” Williams said. “There are few kids that I have seen that can parallel his work ethic, and really at this stage in the game where he has started on defense all year, these freshmen are almost like sophomores at this point.”
Meade, who has started in the secondary, threw just four passes last week, completing three for 81 yards. He was originally third string quarterback, but Hill and Roman Workman are both out with injuries.
“That was his first start at quarterback and once he kind of got settled in he really played a great game, especially considering he’s had virtually no quarterback reps this year,” Williams said. “The first practice he had gotten was that week and it was a 20-degree night and I thought he performed real well.
“We mishandled the ball a few times early in the game, but once we settled in I thought the kids played pretty good.”
What Graham needs is the type of running game it got against Bland County, with Dylan Cook running for 178 yards and Charlie Benfield adding another 117. Cook leads the G-Men with 819 yards this year, while Benfield has collected 726. Both have scored seven touchdowns apiece.
“Chiswell plays great defense, doing anything will be a little bit harder than it was last week, running the ball, passing the ball, playing defense, everything will be a little more challenging,” Williams said. “They always say a quarterback’s best friend is a good running game and a good running game is really good friends with your defense.
“We would certainly like to get a good running game going. It is not going to be easy, the ‘hogs’ up front are going to have to block hard and I think they will do that. I include the fullback in that, and good perimeter blocking will help us pop big runs too.”
The Pioneers are led on offense by quarterback Brett Mabry, tailbacks Chase Rathbone and Dallas Ward, along with pair of massive linemen in center and defensive end Coleman Thomas and 6-foot-3, 295-pound junior Jordan Crockett.
Defensively, the G-Men will counter with Hunter Cook, who had 17 tackles last week and has 93 on the season. Adrian Gray has 18 1/2 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks. Three different Graham defenders have two interceptions.
“They have got good size, they have got good speed on the perimeter, they play mistake-free football for the most part,” Williams said. “You don’t see them make a lot of mistakes.”
Thomas will generate plenty of attention. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound senior has committed to play college football at the University of Tennessee.
“In high school finding big kids that will work and can move and are tough is just rare,” said Williams, who is looking to win the turnover battle and limit penalties against the Pioneers. “We have got some great big kids at Graham High School, but they don’t play football so they don’t work, they are not tough and can’t move.
“Finding a kid that is big and those things is just hard to do and he is a big kid and he moves great and he is a tough kid and obviously works hard at it.”
Graham, which alternated wins and losses through eight games, is currently 15th in the Group 2A-West playoff ratings, and could be sweating out a playoff berth after next week’s regular season finale with Narrows.
“We have no control over other teams and what they do and if they win or lose,” Williams said. “All we can do is go out there and play the best we can and the playoff points, they are going to be what they are going to be, that is all we can do.”
A win over the Pioneers could be the tonic needed by the G-Men.
“You always try to win the ball games,” Williams said. “It will be tough to go down there, but I think our kids are ready.”
—Contact Brian Woodson