By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
For one night, the Graham G-Men borrowed the ‘We Believe’ motto of their rivals, the Bluefield Beavers.
Graham did, indeed, believe. Perhaps, the rest of us doubters should too.
There is little doubt that Ben Meade slept good after Graham’s surprising — at least to most of us — 19-14 win over Fort Chiswell on Friday night.
“I am exhausted right now,” said a smiling 15-year Meade, a Graham freshman, who started at quarterback and cornerback.
He certainly deserved the right to sleep late. So did the rest of the G-Men.
Part of the joy of this particular occupation is the opportunity to see a collection of athletes who overcome the odds, compete with an ‘us against the world’ mentality and then succeed when no one else thought they could.
Exhibit G: Graham’s victory over the previously unbeaten Pioneers.
“Our kids are ready. I think they hit a boiling point where they are just sick of hearing people tell them they are going into places like this and get whipped,” Graham head coach Mike Williams said. “I think they are sick of hearing it and it showed tonight.”
Graham, since I have been here, has been in this position before. I was at Richlands when the G-Men ended the Blues’ long run of SWD wins. I was there a few years later when Graham rallied in the fourth quarter to win at Abingdon and secure a playoff berth.
I wasn’t there in 2011 — although I regretted it later — when Graham went to Fort Chiswell and left with an upset win.
There was no way I wouldn’t be there this time, but I honestly didn’t expect what happened.
Graham was 4-4, on the brink of missing the playoffs and were using a third string freshman quarterback. Fort Chiswell was 8-0, winning by nearly 30 points a game, with two 1,000 yard rushers, a gigantic lineman heading to the University of Tennessee, and a distinct home field advantage with a large crowd and very vocal public address announcer.
Yet, from the start, these G-Men believed.
“We think we match up with Fort Chiswell,” said Graham senior Ethan Stirewalt, who recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown for a 19-7 halftime lead. “We just wanted to play our best.”
It was difficult not to get caught up in the excitement of a possible upset. I would never, ever verbally cheer for a team — any reporter that does should lose this press priviledges — but inside there is no way you can’t be cheering for the local team.
Graham hadn’t won — or lost — two straight games all season, while the Pioneers had dominated just about everyone, winning by an average of 29.4 points a contest.
It had all the makings, as they call it, of a trap game. Fort Chiswell head coach Stephen James knew it too.
“We have been harping all week that Graham is going to come in here ready to play and they were, we just didn’t take care of our end of the deal,” Fort Chiswell head coach Stephen James said. “It is hard to keep 16-and-17-year-olds grounded...You have got to give Graham credit, they played well.”
What did Graham have going for it? Heart and desire, and sometimes that is all you need.
With a large gathering of Graham fans screaming from the start, the G-Men jumped out to a lead three plays into the game when Charlie Benfield followed the blocking of his line and dashed 77 yards for the touchdown.
“We just tried to put it on our offensive line to run the ball down their throats and win this game and we did,” Meade said.
Graham allowed Fort Chiswell to sandwich a touchdown between a pair of Samuel Stowers field goals. The Pioneers held the G-Men to just 234 yards and just four in the second quarter. However, Graham got 10 points in that period, on a field goal and Stirewalt’s touchdown off the fumble.
Suddenly, the G-Men were up 19-7 and a Graham player — unfortunately I didn’t see who it was — screamed loudly, ‘We are going to win this thing.’
They did just that. Fort Chiswell scored coming out of the half, and the Pioneers kept the G-Men from doing the same. However, their one opportunity to score ended with another turnover at the 1 in the final period.
It was Dylan Cook, who had one tackle all season long — playing defense next to his brother, Hunter — who picked up the ball at the three.
Graham rode its offensive line over the next five minutes, led by the hard running of Cook and Meade, both of whom combined for four first downs.
“I knew them yards would be tough and the line blocked great,” Williams said. “Dylan ran hard and it really energizes the whole team where they get those runs where Dylan is piled up and the whole line drives him another three, four or five yards.”
The drive stalled, leaving the Pioneers 2:01 to score. They drove the ball on two pass plays to the Graham 41, but that was it, as Benfield picked off a pass to secure the win.
Graham had done what most of us — but not them — thought impossible.
While the Graham players and staff traded hugs and posed for photos at midfield, James had a long talk with his Pioneers behind closed doors.
“You have got to come back,” James said. “This ain’t always bad. This may unswell their heads a little bit and make them realize you have got to come out ready to play every week.”
The G-Men has managed to pick up a marquee win in each of Williams’ three seasons at Graham, beating Fort Chiswell in 2011, Bluefield last season, and the Pioneers again, both at The Fort.
“We have got an outstanding group of players and an outstanding group of assistant coaches, and the compilation of all their work, you saw the results of tonight,” Williams said.
The G-Men, they believed.
Perhaps now is the time for the rest of us to believe too.
—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org