By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Big and balanced is a good combination.
Charlie Benfield and Dylan Cook combined for 209 rushing yards and three touchdowns to pace well-rounded Graham to a 30-14 win over battling Tazewell on Friday at Mitchell Stadium.
The G-Men (1-1) rebounded for their initial victory while the Bulldogs (0-2) posted bookend touchdowns in a valiant effort.
Benfield finished with 105 yards and Cook added 104 for the G-Men.
It was Tazewell taking its first lead of the season on the game’s opening drive that ignited the evening’s first excitement.
From the 20, the Dogs’ Jacob McReynolds had successive 9-yard scampers, and a six-yard run. Malik Davis blasted for 13 more to push Tazewell down to the Graham 37. The G-Men stiffened at that point, forcing Tazewell into a major decision on 4th-and-5 from the 16-yard stripe. Davis made the gamble pay off, as he rambled 10 yards for a first down.
It was Davis who ripped in for the touchdown, a one-yard burst with 4:41 on the clock. Carter Rasnick drilled the extra point to push Tazewell to the 7-0 advantage.
Benfield capped a 6-play, 61-yard drive with a 14-yard dash around right end good for six points with 2:37 left in the opening stanza as Graham answered in fine fashion on its own opening march. Samuel Stowers aced the extra point to knot the score at 7-7.
“Our offensive line had an awesome game,” grinned Benfield. “I ran hard and the way my teammates blocked, they really made it so much easier to find daylight. Colby (Hill) did a good job at quarterback and Samuel (Stowers) made several kicks. Tonight was a lot of fun and a big win at home.”
That proved to be the opening salvo in a run of 30 consecutive points for the physical G-Men, who took the lead for good with 8:18 to go in the first half.
Adam Carbaugh intercepted a Davis aerial at the Tazewell 25-yard line to set up the go-ahead score. Cook rushed for 7 and 12 yards, the G-Men lost a touchdown on a penalty, and Tazewell had a pair of yellow flags on the same series in a flurry of acton within the shadow of the goal. It was Stowers to the rescue with a smooth 23-yard field goal to push Graham ahead 10-7.
After the opening quarter, Graham’s depth and ability to substitute paid consistent dividends for the remainder of the game. While the G-Men were able to usually play a short field on offense, the Graham rush hammered through early and often with a bevy of players.
“Our line played hard on both sides of the ball,” noted Graham coach Mike Williams. “After that first touchdown, when the game started just like last week against Bluefield, we could have had problems. I liked the way our guys responded. We battled back, established the run, and put some pressure on Tazewell’s offense. That is the way a winning team has to play. It feels good to get that first victory.”
The next THS fourth down decision was not so fortunate for the Dogs when the Graham defense rose up to halt them on a fourth-and-9 at the 40, allowing a five-yard gain. Led by sure-handed quarterback Colby Hill, the G-Men marched 55 yards on five plays in two minutes. Hill raced for 10 himself before De’Quan Booker caught a short pass to the Tazewell 39.
Cook and Benfield then took command. It was Cook who scrambled for a 24-yard TD on a right-side first down run which ultimately proved to be the winning points. Stowers’ kick with 1:21 left before the break gave the G-Men 17-7 cushion.
Stowers opened the second half scoring when he popped another 23-yard field goal right down central, putting the cap on a 6-play, 54-yard drive with 7:25 on the third quarter clock.
His dynamic night continued. The 5-9, 177-pound\ senior rose to the occasion at the 4:11 mark of the third stanza as he drilled a 28-yard three-pointer for the G-Men to give his team a 23-7 advantage. At that point, Stowers had scored 14 of his team’s points single-footedly.
“Samuel was on his game tonight,” beamed Graham coach Mike Williams. “Not only was he making points but he was putting the ball in the end zone on kickoffs. That’s a bonus to have that weapon. Samuel has kicked for us for three years and has now become able to do that. It made a big difference in the outcome.”
Graham continued to add to the margin midway through the fourth period. Runs by Benfield (14 yards), Mark Large (11 yards) and a five-yard toss from Hill to Booker set up the final score. Hill fired a 33-yard strike to sophmore Bryce Farris, streaking down the right sideline. Farris split two defenders as he crossed the goal line, leaped, twisted, and landed upright with the touchdown in hand. Stowers calmly kicked another PAT, making it 30-7 with 7:08 showing.
Not to be outdone with dramatics, Tazewell pulled one trick from its sleeve.
After McReynolds had to be helped off the field with fewer than five minute left following his 19th carry and 107th yard gained, Davis and Nick Blankenship went to work. On fourth-and-10, the third time was just as charming as the first attempt early in the game had been.
Davis stepped back and drilled the pigskin over the middle. Blankenship caught the ball in perfect stride, racing untouched for the 40-yard score. Rasnick kicked the extra point with 3:08 remaining and that closed the night’s scoring as the score tightened to 30-14.
“I knew Nick would be open,” said Davis. “The safety on the right side was off him and all I had to do was get the ball in the right place. It was good to get some points on the board.”
Blankenship added, “The play was a ‘75-seam’ route. I had no doubt coming off the line. Malik had the ball there exactly when I looked up -- I just had faith he would find me and that’s exactly what happened.”
Tazewell coach Shane Allen concluded, “Graham is just so physical and strong. They are about two years ahead of us in the weight room right now. Jacob (McReynolds) gave a great effort tonight. We hope he won’t be out too long but he took a hard hit late in the game. We played hard and made some good plays at times. Back to practice on Monday and work to keep improving.”
Graham piled up 308 total yards while Tazewell gained a respectable 198 overall. Hill completed six passes for 77 yards and a score while Booker paced GHS receivers with 40 yards and Farris added a receiving touchdown.
Davis had 85 yards passing and the TD to Blankenship.
Defensively, a relentless Graham rush kept Davis on the run much of the night, sacking the THS passer five times. Nevertheless, he was able to elude the rush for a pair of 13-yard gains. Chase Asbury consistently led the GHS defenders up front and Jonathan Jennings also had some sparkling plays.
For Tazewell, Bubba Asbury had a solid game, along with Rasnick and Garrett Jessee, among others. Rasnick was effective with his punts, often kicking while moving laterally to elude pursuers.
Tazewell will travel to Sullivan Central in Blountville, Tenn. Friday, while Graham hits the road to play county rival Richlands this coming week.
at Mitchell Stadium
Tazewell................................. 7 0 0 7 — 14
Graham..................................7 10 6 7 — 30
TZ- Davis, 1-yard run (Rasnick kick) 4:41
GR- Benfield, 14-yard run (Stowers kick) 2:37
GR-Stowers, 23-yard field goal 8:18
GR-Cook, 24-yard run (Stowers kick)1:21
GR-Stowers, 23-yard field goal 7:28
GR-Stowers, 28-yard field goal 4:11
GR -Ferris, 33-yard pass from Hill (Stowers kick) 7:08
TZ - Blankenship, 40-yard pass from Davis (Rasnick kick) 3:08