The underdog barked loudest in hostile surroundings on Friday night.
The Graham G-Men had heard about the amazing Peoples brothers of Galax High School. Yes, Galax, the Mountain Empire District powerhouse that reached the Virginia state championship game last year.
But that was last year.
This year’s G-Men, most of them a year more seasoned and a lot stronger, went toe to toe with the Maroon Tide and departed the field with mud on their jerseys and a 45-42 win on their score sheet.
Let Spencer Sheets add a little perspective.
“We’re a different team than we were last year,” said the 5-foot-8 senior quarterback for Graham. “We’re much better. Better coached. We can run the ball better. We block better. We pass better. We do everything better as a team.”
Want more proof? Listen to Galax head coach Mark Dixon.
“I just thought they were physically in superior shape,” he said in the gloom outside the Maroon Tide locker room. Referring to Graham head coach Mike Williams, Dixon said, “That’s an amazing job he’s done there. Very impressive.”
“He’s done a great job building that program into something special.”
That’s coming from a coach of a program that was honored at halftime with a ceremony centered around the presentation of rings to last fall’s state runner-up team.
After Friday’s win, Sheets was still smarting over Graham’s 36-17 loss to Grayson County the previous Saturday. “We had a sorry game Saturday. And we came in (to Galax) and played like the G-Men can.”
Did they ever. Sheets ran for one score and passed for four more, including the game-capping 14-yard toss to Colby Hill with 42.4 seconds remaining.
Sheets ran for 52 yards and completed 13 of his 16 passes for 229 yards. The incompletions included at least one pass that was dropped by the intended receiver, and a spike of the ball just before halftime to buy time for Samuel Stowers’ successful field goal.
Cody Hatfield had something special going on Friday, for sure. He ran for 170 yards, caught three passes for 117 more, and returned a pair of kickoffs for 33 yards. That adds up to 320 all-purpose yards. Add in nine tackles on defense while you’re at it.
Oh, yes, he also recovered a Graham fumble in the G-Men’s final offensive series of the first half to keep the drive alive.
Time and again, the Graham defense made key plays while facing down the talented Tide. Jarrod Richardson got into the backfield to grab Galax senior Donté Peoples by his heels, resulting in a 3-yard loss on third down and forcing a punt in the first half.
On the next possession, tackles for losses by Michael Thompson and Brennan Wheeler were followed by Jacob Tibbs’ stop of Steven Peoples for no gain. Again, Galax had to punt.
Donté Peoples still had 180 rushing yards and his brother Steven had 40 more. There were times that they looked like Division I running backs — which they may be in a couple of years. But while Graham didn’t shut them down by any means, they limited the damage and matched them touchdown for touchdown.
Hatfield said, “The Peoples brothers are really good running backs, both of them. Very athletic, both of them, very powerful.”
“And it just felt good, every time he’d hit me and I’d hit him, and we’d pick each other up — and everybody was just friends out there, playing a clean game.”
Here’s to playing the game cleanly, giving respect to a worthy opponent — and not giving up before the opening kickoff.
• • •
Due to computer problems, the receiving statistics were not included in Saturday’s report on the Graham-Galax game. In addition to Hatfield’s 117 yards, Charlie Benfield had 27 yards on three catches, Thompson had 20 on two grabs, Mark Large had one reception for 13 yards, and Hill had two receptions — both for touchdowns — for 29 yards. Corey Monninger caught one pass for a 22-yard touchdown.
Tom Bone is a Daily Telegraph sports writer and editorial cartoonist. Contact him at tbone @ bdtonline.com.