BLUEFIELD, Va. —
he job tonight for Graham is to stop No. 21.
For good reason.
Ethan Richardson has run all over opponents in four games this season for Marion, recording games of 298, 261 and 171 yards and has scored seven touchdowns, including runs of 81, 76 and 55 yards for the 3-1 Scarlet Hurricane.
“Marion is really good, I don’t know if the word is out on them or not, but they are a good football team,” Graham head coach Mike Williams said. “Their tailback, he is as good as anybody in the area. He runs well, their quarterback (Trey Crook) runs real well too. He is a good enough thrower that you have to be aware of that too.”
While Graham enters with a 3-1 record, Marion’s mark is the same, having beaten Chilhowie (38-15) and Northwood (41-16) and then rebounding from a 24-21 loss to Fort Chiswell with a 34-26 decision against Rural Retreat.
“They are 3-1 and they are 3-1 for a reason,” Williams said. “They are good team, a talented team and they are playing with a lot of confidence and we have to go to their house this week.”
After starting the season with a 3-0 record, Graham fell to Richlands two weeks ago 24-8, but trailed just 12-8 after three quarters. Considering the G-Men were thrashed 38-0 the previous season by the Blue Tornado, Williams saw positive signs of progress.
“It didn’t go our way, but it was a 22-point swing in our direction from one year to next so we improved by three touchdowns from one year to the next...,” Williams said. “Hats off to Richlands, they were a tough opponent, there is a reason they are considered one of the better programs in the area.
“They gave us a tough game. I was proud of our kids going into the fourth quarter at 12-8. That is about where we wanted to be, the fourth quarter just didn’t go our way.”
In addition to 15 penalties and misalignments on defense, Graham also struggled with completing just one sustained drive, an 11-play, 92-yard possession that allowed the G-Men to chew up clock and get on the board in the third period.
That drive was highlighted by the play of Spencer Sheets, who lined up at running back and receiver, with Colby Hill doing the duties at quarterback. Hill connected with Sheets for the touchdown.
“Colby Hill, he is our little secret, but I feel strongly that he could be a starting quarterback at a lot of schools and even for us if we didn’t have Spencer, he is a really good football player...,” Williams said. “(Spencer) having the ball we feel is one of our best chances to hitting a big play, and sometimes the best way to do that is to move him to another position...”
“He is a pretty explosive athlete and he is hard to tackle in the open field so we just felt like we needed to take advantage of that and move him out of the pocket and the put the ball in his hands in a couple of different ways.”
Ultimately, Richlands was able to score twice in the final quarter against a weary Graham defense. Williams was pleased with that unit, which had seven tackles for loss, three sacks and four players in double figures in tackles, including Cody Hatfield (23), Adam Carbaugh (16), Hunter Cook (13) and Jake Tibbs (10).
“As we got down the stretch where we weren’t moving the ball on offense, our defense was on the field a ton and that is probably a big reason why we lost that fourth quarter, our defense was just on the field so much that night,” Williams said. “If we were able to keep them a little fresher by moving the ball I feel like we could have probably won that fourth quarter.”
Graham had its bye last week, allowing Williams to give the G-Men a few days off, helping to recharge their bodies for the weeks ahead.
Up next is Marion — which will be joining the Hogoheegee District next season — and the ‘Canes have thrived with big plays this season. Crook has thrown for four touchdowns and run for two more from 43 and 35 yards, while Colin Gullion has caught a 36-yard scoring pass and returned a punt for 55 yards for a score.
Kyle Rivero has two touchdown receptions from 70 and 33 yards, while Dustin Tilson returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown in the loss to Fort Chiswell.
“They are bigger than us, they are not as big as Richlands...but they are bigger than we are,” Williams said. “They are good up front, you don’t get all those yards and not be good up front, they are good on the offensive line, they are 3-1, they are good on the defensive line as well.
“Some of those kids play both ways, that will be another tough challenge for our kids, it is going to be a tough battle there Friday night.”
Special teams could play a role tonight, much like it did last season when Graham won 28-26. Marion took the opening kick for a touchdown, but after Sheets scored a late touchdown, the G-Men blocked a field goal in the final seconds to secure the win.
Samuel Stowers made two field goals for Graham. He’s back, as is Marion’s Isaac Glass, who has made three field goals this season.
With Stowers now doing the kicking and punting duties, Williams is more comfortable with that part of the game this season.
“I feel like Samuel has improved his kicking game from a year ago, he has gotten certainly more consistency than he had a year ago,” Williams said. “Kicking is more than just field goals, it is the whole gamut of things and he has improved in all those areas.”
The plan ahead is to stop Richardson and maintain possession of the football.
“We feel like the big thing we need to do is stop No. 21 on their offense. In our view he is their best player, he is what they do best so we would like to stop him first and foremost,” Williams said. “Offensively, we would like to establish the run game.
“I felt like we ran the ball real well against Bluefield and Tazewell, but Richlands not well at all, we didn’t establish the run game real well and that is why our defense was on the field so much and probably frankly was a big reason we didn’t win.”
• • •
Graham, which will play Princeton next week, will drop both Marion and the Tigers from the schedule next season and add Giles and Grundy.
“Giles, they are big power in Division 2-West, that is a big game because that is going to have a great bearing on playoff seedings,” Williams said. “Beating them gives us points and also costs them points and they are one of the better teams in the area. The single wing is unique to defend.
“Grundy is historically good, I know they were in AA not too long ago so they will be tough, they are off to a good start this year...
“I think it is fun for the kids to get to play some different teams and not the same teams every year. That is a big reason for this.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
he job tonight for Graham is to stop No. 21.
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