Warning: Don’t schedule Graham for homecoming.
For the second straight week, the G-Men played the role of rude guests on a festive occasion, defeating Princeton 22-16 on Friday night in what was homecoming at Anne. S. Hunnicutt Stadium.
Graham (4-1) also put a damper on Marion’s homecoming festivities last Friday with a 21-20 win.
“We had heart. You know what it means when a team schedules you for homecoming, it just gave us more fuel for the fire,” Graham quarterback Spencer Sheets said. “My line just came out here and did a great job.”
Lining up against the bigger Class AAA Tigers, the Graham offensive line opened up holes all night, rolling up 408 yards on offense, including 297 on the ground. Cody Hatfield had 156 yards, while Sheets ran for 75 yards and two scores and threw for another touchdown.
“The line was just blocking amazing, it was awesome,” Hatfield said. “It felt like tonight every time I had the ball there was an open hole that my line had made for me and it was just a wonderful feeling.”
Princeton (0-6) dropped its 10th straight game, dating back to the Tigers’ 41-7 win over the G-Men last season.
“We have got to have some good luck happen our way,” Princeton first -year head coach Randy Peek said. “We have injuries and it seems like nothing goes our way, but I told them to keep at it. Good things happen to good people and they are a good bunch of kids and we will turn this around.”
Punters had the night off in this one. Princeton also moved the ball, running for 290 yards, led by speedy Tahj Sho-Johnson, who had 176 yards, while Jay Palmer added 101 and two touchdowns.
Sho-Johnson was thought to be out for the season with a knee injury, but it’s hard to keep a talented athlete down. He was able to get a medical release and was expected to see spot duty against the G-Men, but played most of the game.
“We tried to spot play him in situations, but one of our safeties went down and he had to go in at safety too,” Peek said. “We didn’t think he would be playing that much. He makes a difference, and they start keying on him and that leaves Jay open and Jay had a good game.
Graham fell behind 16-15 at the break when Austin Smith converted on a 22-yard field goal 0:01 left in the second quarter. The G-Men made some adjustments at the break to try and slow down Sho-Johnson, who had 139 yards at halftime, including a 64-yard run that set up the Smith kick.
Sheets made the touchdown-saving tackle that kept him from the end zone.
“Even with the adjustments those kids are so fast, they just look faster than anybody we had on the team,” Graham head coach Mike Williams said. “We knew going in we would have to catch those guys around the line of scrimmage because if they got the edge on us, they could go a long ways in a short amount of time.”
However, it was Graham that ultimately had the biggest push on the line of scrimmage, driving 90 yards on 11 plays to take an 8-7 lead in the first quarter, and the G-Men went 80 yards on 14 plays, with Sheets scoring on a 5-yard run with 5:02 left in the third period, which proved to be the winning points.
“My line blocked excellent tonight, I couldn’t ask for more of them,” Sheets said. “They blocked great, we could run the ball, we could roll out, we could bootleg, we could really do it all.”
Sheets also completed 9-of-11 passes for 108 yards, including an 8-yard completion to Corey Monninger to put the G-Men up 8-7 after he also hit Monninger for a 2-point conversion pass. Mark Large had four catches for Graham for 69 yards.
“The run game played in so good that the play-action opened up and Mark was there and Mark did a great job of getting open and catching them and just getting upfield,” Sheets said.
Graham was only stopped twice in the game, both on fumbles deep in Princeton territory, once on the 23 which led to Sho-Johnson’s long run and Smith field goal, and second miscue by Michael Thompson at the Tigers’ 1 that gave the opposition a glimmer of hope with 4:19 to play.
“We moved the ball pretty well all night,” Williams said. “Of course we fumbled going in twice which was darn near the death blow there. You can’t do that against a team like this very often and walk away unscathed.”
Princeton tried to make a late comeback, but turned the ball over on fourth down on an interception by Graham’s Charlie Benfield. The Tigers were stopped three times on the night on fourth down, but struggled without much threat of the pass.
Palmer completed just 2-of-8 passes for 14 yards in the game.
“We moved the ball and we had two receivers out and we’re no threat throwing the ball really and they know that so that makes it tough,” said Peek, whose Tigers have struggled stopping the other team all season long. “That has been the thing all year, people have moved the ball on us at will.
“We have people in position to make a tackle and sometimes we just don’t make the tackle.”
Princeton will try to break its 10-game losing skid next Friday when equally winless St. Albans (0-6) visits Mercer County. Peek knows his team needs a win.
“Graham is a good team. I think every week we are getting better and we just have to keep working at it,” Peek said. “We will try to stay positive, this one hurts, and you can tell because they knew they were in a ball game.
“We are going to get back at it Monday and get back to work.”
Graham was able to finish a difficult non-league slate with a 4-1 record and will now enter the rugged Mountain Empire District next week by hosting Grayson County (4-1) on Saturday at Mitchell Stadium.
“We have got some good momentum heading into district play, we will enjoy this one tonight, wins are always hard to come by and winning is funner than losing so we are glad to be 4-1,” Williams said. “Now we head into a real challenge. We have got Grayson next week and that was our nemesis twice last year.”
Princeton basketball standouts McKenzie Akers and Ryan Meadows were honored as the homecoming queen and king during halftime ceremonies.
—Contact Brian Woodson
G-Men hold off scrappy Tiger team
Warning: Don’t schedule Graham for homecoming.
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