Big ‘mo’ turned on the opening kickoff of the second half.
Charlie Benfield ran for 104 yards and three touchdowns after the break, and Hunter Cook created three turnovers, including an interception in the final seconds, as Graham celebrated homecoming with a 26-22 Mount-ain Empire District win over Grayson County on a wet Friday night at Mitchell Stadium.
It was the first win for Graham against the Blue Devils (3-3, 0-1) since joining the MED three years ago.
“I am just so proud of our kids and the character they showed,” said Graham head coach Mike Williams, whose G-Men had been 0-3 against Grayson County. “That is tremendous, they shut out Grayson in the second half and put up 20 points. You are going to win a lot of games doing that.”
Graham (3-3, 1-0) didn’t wrap it up until the final minute when Cook picked off a Max Rodgers pass at the goal line to preserve the victory.
“He was looking at 2 (Ty Cannaday) the whole game and they told me to go blitz, but I decided to go back and stay with the split end,” Cook said.
It worked, allowing the G-Men to escape with a key win in terms of moving back into playoff contention with four games to go.
“We knew we had to win this game to at least make it to the playoffs,” Cook said, “and get a top seed in our district and playoffs.”
Grayson County took a 22-6 lead at the break, with Rodgers throwing touchdown passes of 20 yards to James Williams and 40 to Cannaday, and also got on the board when Isaac Osborne picked off a Colby Hill pass and dashed 65 yards for another score.
“At halftime we felt good, but it is all about finishing and big ‘mo’ swung and we didn’t have ability to stem the tide,” Grayson County head coach Brett McPherson said. “I have to give credit to them, they came out and did a good job in the second half...
“Every time there was a key situation we had a key penalty or we did something that is just not smart. We did not do what we needed to do to win the football game.”
Halftime is about making adjustments and the G-Men did just that, moving the athletic Cook from safety to linebacker and then running Benfield off-tackle around the edge where the Blue Devils struggled to bring him down.
“Hunter is our best defensive player and we made a switch to get him up to the line of scrimmage after half and they didn’t score another point so it worked pretty well,” Williams said. “He is a heck of a football player, no matter where is he is at. We did move him up to linebacker in the second half and that seemed to make a big difference.”
Grayson County, which was signaled 13 times for 110 yards in penalties, had 30 of those yards on the opening kick on a pair of unsportsmanlike penalty calls. Graham started at the Blue Devils’ 39 and scored five plays later on a 9-yard run by Benfield, who finished with 167 yards on the ground.
“Their defense couldn’t stop me really, it was all about the speed outside and the agility,” Benfield said. “You just have got to make the right cuts, have the right vision and you have got to do what you have got to do and that is what I did, I did what I had to do.”
Graham, which scored six points in the opening half on a pair of 41-yard field goals by Samuel Stowers, followed by forcing a punt by Grayson County and then kept the ball for nearly eight minutes, going 78 yards on 17 plays, with Benfield skipping in from 10 yards out to narrow the margin to 22-19 after one of two extra point kicks by Stowers with 11:54 left in the game.
“That is our game plan is running the clock and running the ball and that is what we do and we really needed to do that and I think that is what set the tone, that gave us the momentum,” Benfield said. “It was all about who wanted it more.”
Three plays in Grayson County’s next possession, Benfield made a key play on defense, picking off a deflected pass to give Graham the ball at the Blue Devils’ 46-yard line.
“It is all about finishing, we didn’t finish, we had opportunities there on several occasions to make some plays,” McPherson said. “These ball games come down to six or eight big plays and we didn’t make those plays and didn’t execute and they did and that was the difference in the football game.”
Graham continued to feed Benfield the ball, as the senior — who had been injured earlier in the second half — capped a seven-play drive by running around the right side, breaking a pair of tackles and dashing into the end zone for what would be the game-winning score with 7:22 left.
“My knee starting hurt me again and I just kept telling myself over and over I can’t go out, I can’t go out,” Benfield said. “I couldn’t let down my teammates and my line, woo, my line did great.”
Cook, who had an interception at the goal line in the second quarter to prevent an even larger deficit, then scooped up a fumble by Rodgers at Graham’s 39-yard line with 5:30 on the clock.
“At halftime we changed some things up and they were saying put me back at linebacker and leave it up the DBs to make the tackles,” said Cook, who still led the G-Men in tackles. “It worked the second half and they didn’t score in the second half.”
Graham tried to run clock, but the G-Men were eventually forced to punt, and disaster nearly struck when Stowers was rushed, tried to elude defenders and was brought down at his own 42 with 1:38 to play.
“That just crushed me to even have to punt there, but we had that penalty to put us in 3rd and long,” said Williams, whose G-Men were called for 10 penalties for 85 yards. “Clearly somebody somewhere in the protection broke down, it wasn’t a called deal.
“We were going to kick the ball so we gave them the ball with a short field and daggone if the defense didn’t step up and stop them.”
Rodgers, who was hobbled throughout the game, was forced out of the pocket on the first play from scrimmage, but reversed field and ran 22 yards down to the 19. Rodgers threw for 156 yards and ran for another 95, but also had four turnovers.
“That makes you sick, we had him in the backfield, he is a heck of a player, one of the best ones in the district, he showed why with that tonight,” Williams said. “Hats off to them, they busted a big run on us when we had him in the backfield and the kids still played defense.”
Two plays later with the clock under a minute, Rodgers tried to connect with Cannaday — who had six receptions for 101 yards — but Cook snared the ball out of the air to secure the win.
“We converted some key first downs, hats off to our kids, they showed a tremendous amount of character,” Williams said. “We were down 22-6 at halftime and they didn’t hang their heads, they didn’t pout, they didn’t say woe is me, here we go, they just came out and kicked butt in the second half.”
Graham returns to Mitchell Stadium for their third of four straight home games next Saturday afternoon against Galax.
“Hats off to the kids and all the work and hours they have put in,” Williams said. “They prepared themselves for a game like tonight for the last 12 months. I am just happy for the kids and these seniors to beat Grayson on the way out.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Big ‘mo’ turned on the opening kickoff of the second half.
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