It was a game that lived up to the hype of one of the top rivalries in the nation.
Mitchell Stadium was packed, both teams had the lead, and in the end it came down to the final play of the game as the Graham G-Men defeated the Bluefield Beavers 23-21 in the 86th Battle of the Bluefields, Friday night.
“I can’t put into workds how bit it is to win this game,” said Graham head coach Mike Williams. “You hear people talk and you hear about predictions in the paper, across the board the Beavers are picked to slaughter us, it’s kind of like the Ft. Chiswell game last year. We were down at halftime 7-3 and went on to win.
“The kids are more seasoned and better able to handle the situation.”
“It is great to win, my senior year,” said Cody Hatfield. “It was a great effort by all the guys and I am just so happy that we were able to win.”
D.J. Stewart took the opening kickoff at the seven yard line and scurried and weaved up the sideline all the way to the Graham 44 before being tackled.
The first play of the 2012 season for both teams was an offside penalty against the G-Men. Montel Leggett bulled 10 yards on the next play to the Graham 29, then Brandon Tabor carried to the 23. Back-to-back keepers by Edwards gave Bluefield a first down on the G-Men 16. Another offside penalty against Graham placed the ball on the five. Leggett then rambled right between the tackles to the end zone for the Beavers first score of the season. Justin Mariotti booted the extra point and the Beavers were on top 7-0 with 9:31 remaining in the opening quarter.
Graham looked like it would respond on its first possession. A couple of keepers by Spencer Sheets, a 10 yard completion to Charlie Benfield and runs of four and eight yards by Dylan Cook and Cody Hatfield gave the G-Men a first down at the Beaver 36. The Bluefield defense rose to the fore when D.J. Sims sacked Sheets, then forced an incomplete pass necessitating a Graham punt.
Samuel Sowers’ punt was muffed by Edwards at about the 10 and eventually rolled through the back of the end zone for a safety, making the score 7-2.
The game then turned into a defensive battle where neither team could generate much offense in the remainder of the first and the second quarter.
Early in the second quarter Graham began a drive at their own 42and marched down field, the big play a 20-yard run by Thompson that gave the G-Men a first down at the Bluefield 21. On the next play Graham fumbled, recovered by the Beavers at the 15 yard line.
Bluefield had a three and out on that series, and another three and out following a Grahm drive that ended with a punt.
The first half ended with Edwards getting a pass picked off.
The Beavers held a 7-2 halftime lead.
Graham came out like raging bulls in the third quarter.
“Some people might feel like with the score 7-2 it might look bad, but that is what we had planned and where we wanted it to be,” Williams said. “We were just executing our game plan.”
Facing a third and 15 at their own 10 yard line, Sheets called his own number, weaved in and out of Bluefield defenders and gave the G-Men a first down at the Bluefield 21.
“We called trips left, a sprint out, and my blocks fell great for me,” Sheets said. “I saw a hole, my line had great blocks, my wide receivers had great blocks and I had a lead block in front of me. I couldn’t have done it without this team,” Sheets said.
Hatfield rumbled down to the 17 and Brennan Wheeler ran eight yards for a first down at the nine. On the next play, however, Wheeler fumbled and D.J. Bourne recovered at the six.
Graham’s defense got the next points. On Bluefield’s first play from scrimmage, Edwards fumbled in the end zone and Jake Tibbs pounced on it for the touchdown. Stowers’ kick gave the G-Men it’s first lead, 9-7.
Like a heavyweight boxing match, Bluefield took Graham’s punch and responded.
Starting at its own 40 yard line the Beavers went on the march. A 20-yard run by Legget gave Bluefield a first down at the Graham 39. An Edwards run took the ball to the 12. Bourne entered at quarterback and ran the final four yards for the score. Mariotti’s kick was true and Bluefield was back on top 14-9.
After exchanging possessions, Graham went on another march late in the third period. Wheeler had runs of nine, four, nine, 12 and two yards to help the G-Men move to the Beavers 23. Facing a fourth and four at the 14, Sheets’ pass fell incomplete in the endzone.
Seconds into the fourth quarter the Beavers again fumbled the shotgun snap and Jacob Evans came up with the ball on the Bluefield 30. On the first play from after the turnover Hatfield ran untouched, 30 yards off left tackle to the endzone. The two-point conversion failed but Graham was back on top, 15-14.
It was déjà vu as Bluefield again fumbled a shotgun snap, this one recovered again at the Beavers 30 by the G-Men.
Graham used the legs of Hatfield, Wheeler and Thompson and chewed up nearly four minutes off the clock. The score came when Wheeler ran into the corner of the end zone from four yards out for the score. The snap on the point after got away from the holder, Sheets, but he recovered and connected with Colby Hill for the conversion to make it 23-14.
Bluefield was not going to lie down. Stowers’ squib kick gave the Beavers the ball on their own 43. On the first play Edwards again called his own number and when he was finished running it was 57 yards later and the Beavers were celebrating a touchdown. Mariotti’s kick was good and with 5:09 left in the game the Beavers were within two, 23-21.
Graham drove the field, from its own 28 to the Bluefield 18 where the drive stalled. Stowers’ 40-yard field goal attempt hit the cross bar and Bluefield still had life with 1:43 remaining in the contest.
Taking over on his own 20, Edwards ran four yards to the 24, then Bourne completed a pass to Johnny David on a long pass-run play that carried the ball to the Graham 17. With 37 seconds left Edwards got a first down at the six. Edwards called his own number again and was knocked out at the one yard line with 17 ticks on the clock.
A delay of game penalty pushed the Beavers back to the six yard line with no time out.
Mariotti came on for a possible game-winning field goal, a 23-yard attempt. The kick sailed wide left with 14 seconds remaining in the game.
Graham took a knee and then accepted the Great American Rivalry Series trophy.
Sheets was voted Most Valuable Player and received a trophy from the Great American Rivalry Series and the Marine Corps. He ran for 101 yards on 12 carries and completed 11-of-15 passes for 98.
“Spencer Sheets, there is no better person,” Williams said. “He’s a kid of character, a leader, a great football player and he runs the show on offense. We’re real glad to have him and his hard work and experience from last year is starting to show.”
Hatfield ran for 57 yards on 13 carries and Wheeler carried 10 times for 56 yards, all in the second half.
Edwards was the top ball carrier for Bluefield as he toted the pigskin 14 times for 139 yards. He completed two-of-four passes for seven yards. Bourne completed the only pass he attempted for 59 yards. Leggett ran for 54 yards on eight carries.
At Mitchell Stadium
Bluefield…..............….7 7 0 7 - 21
Graham……..............…2 0 7 14 - 23
B - Leggett 5 run (Mariotti kick) 9:32
G - Punt fumbled out of endzone - Safety, 5:35
G - Jake Tibbs fumble recovery in end zone (Stowers kick), 9:37
B - Bourne 4 run (Mariotti kick), 7:11
G - Hatfield 30 run (run failed), 10:06
G - Wheeler 4 run (Sheets to Hill) 5:28
B - Edwards 57 run (Mariotti kick), 5:09
Rushing: Bluefield - Leggett 8-54, David 12-19, Tabor 3-5, Edwards 14-139, Steward 2-13, Bourne 1-4. Graham - Hatfield 13-51, Sheets 12-101, Cook 2-7, Thompson 1-42, Hess 2-6, Wheeler 10-56
Passing: Bluefield - Edwards 2-4-8, 1 INT, Bourne 1-1-59. Graham - Sheets 10-15-98
Receiving Bluefield - Carter 2-8, David 1-59. Graham - Hill 4-32, Monninger 2-55, Large 1-3.