By JONATHAN GREENE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
In a battle for Mountain Empire supremacy, it was showcase of two different styles. Fort Chiswell looked to spread Graham out while the G-Men looked to power over the Pioneers.
When the dust settled, it was Fort Chiswell who came out on top with a 27-20 victory to spoil Graham’s Homecoming on Friday night at Mitchell Stadium.
“We knew Graham was good,” Fort Chiswell head coach Stephen James said. “We had some breakdowns there. Their quarterback is a great player. Our kids persevered. We knew if we got it late, we stood a good chance.”
The Pioneers (8-1, 4-0 MED) jumped out to a 13-0 lead at the half, but Graham (6-3, 2-2) fought back to tie it at 20-all in the fourth before Daniel Hamm scored with 17 seconds left to lift Fort Chiswell to a thrilling district victory.
“Usually we win those that come down to the last minute of the fourth quarter,” Graham head coach Mike Williams said. “It stings pretty good to have it go the other way.”
Both teams were held to punts on their first drives. Fort Chiswell’s second drive was headed for the same fate before Graham jumped offside giving the Pioneers life.
Fort Chiswell took advantage as Brett Mabry found Lane Edmonds for a 22-yard gain. Following another first down, Mabry connected with Corey Vaughn for 22 yards to set up a one-yard quarterback keeper a play later.
“We fixed that in the second half,” Williams said of Graham’s penalties which totaled 50 yards in the first half. “They did what we thought they would as far as trying to get us to jump offside and they still got us. We fixed it at halftime and didn’t happen in the second half.”
The Pioneers kept the momentum going in the second quarter despite losing Mabry for several plays.
Mabry threw a 41-yard bomb to Levi Mooney before leaving after picking up two yards on a quarterback keeper. Three plays later, Mabry was back in and found Chase Rathbone for 15 yards. Four plays later, Daniel Hamm went untouched into the endzone making it 13-0.
The G-Men struggled to get their offense going as they punted their first two drives and turned the ball over on their third.
A mishandled snap by Spencer Sheets turned into a 14-yard loss which put Graham in a third and long situation. Sheets made up for it with a 16-yard dash, but couldn’t find a hole to convert on fourth down.
The G-Men were their own worst enemy on Fort Chiswell’s final drive of the half.
Graham was called for pass interference on the first play then a 15-yard personal foul pushed the Pioneers inside the 30. Fort Chiswell could not take advantage, but an offside penalty turned Zane Gregory’s 42-yard attempt into a 37-yard try. Gregory’s kick however would go wide.
The G-Men came out determined in the second half. Following a sack, Sheets hit Michael Thompson for a 27-yard pickup. Back-to-back Thompson runs set up a big 33-yard gain by Sheets. Cody Hatfield capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown.
“We did our job,” James said of stopping Graham in the first half. “In the Second half, the first long touchdown we didn’t line up right and the quarterback booted and he’s gone. The second touchdown by the tailback, our cornerback didn’t fill in like he was supposed to. It was breakdowns, but a lot of that was because of Graham too. They’re a good football team. Our kids did what they needed to do to win.”
Momentum looked to fully swing on Graham’s side following a bad punt by the Pioneers which put the ball just inside the 50 for the G-Men.
However, a holding penalty and a sack forced a punt. Like Fort Chiswell, Graham’s punt was equally bad giving the Pioneers a short field.
Fort Chiswell took full advantage and six plays later, Mabry found the endzone once again.
Graham had an answer though as for his second straight carry, Hatfield found the endzone. This time he sprinted 80 yards to make it 20-13.
The big plays kept coming for the G-Men in the fourth quarter. Sheets called his own number near midfield then cut to the outside and took off for a 61-yard score to tie the game. Sheets then intercepted Mabry on Fort Chiswell’s ensuring possession.
“In the first half, you might have a bad snap or sack and any time a team can get a lead and put you in third in long, they’ve got you,” Williams said. “We had a lot of that in the first half. That really takes you out of your offense. In the second half, we were able to even the score and were able to execute the offense as we wanted.”
Graham wouldn’t capitalize on the turnover though. On fourth and inches, Sheets couldn’t handle the snap and Daniel Eversole for the Pioneers recovered.
“If we would have converted this fourth down right here, it was a bad call on my part,” Williams said. “If we got that fourth down, I believe we would have won this game tonight.”
Fort Chiswell turned to Mabry and Hamm in their final drive. Mabry converted on a critical fourth and short situation while Hamm gained 29 yards before fighting his way for a the game winning score.
“We got a little flat,” James commented. “These kids have fought all year. They’ve done a great job. I’m just proud of them.”
Hamm finished with 147 yards on 22 carries. Mabry had 31 yards and two scores on the ground. He added 136 yards through the air.
Sheets led all rushers. The shifty quarterback had 151 yards rushing and 54 yards passing. Hatfield had two touchdowns and 118 yards on 12 carries.
Graham closes out the regular season Friday hosting MED foe Narrows.
At Mitchell Stadium
Fort Chiswell........................6 7 7 7 — 27
Graham.................................0 0 13 7 — 20
FC – Brett Mabry 1 rush (Zane Gregory kick missed), 1:03
FC – Daniel Hamm 3 rush (Gregory kick good), 5:08
G – Cody Hatfield 5 rush (PAT failed), 9:16
FC – Mabry 2 rush (Gregory kick good), 3:41
G – Hatfield 80 rush (Samuel Stowers kick good), 3:29
G – Spencer Sheets 61 rush (Stowers kick good), 10:03
FC – Hamm 16 rush (Gregory kick good), :17
RUSHING — Fort Chiswell, Corey Vaughn 7-18, Daniel Hamm 22-147-2td, Desmond Perry 4-16, Brett Mabry 11-31-2td, Levi Mooney 1-4, TEAM 1-2; Graham, Cody Hatfield 12-118-2td, Spencer Sheets 15-151-td, Charlie Benfield 2-8, Michael Thompson 5-26.
PASSING — FC, Mabry 9-19-1-136-0; GHS, Sheets 2-5-0-54-0, Colby Hill 1-1-0-12-0.
RECEIVING — FC, Mooney 2-50, Lane Edmonds 1-22, Vaughn 2-19, Chase Rathbone 3-37, Perry 1-8; GHS, Hatfield 1-27, Thompson 1-27, Sheets 1-12.