MARION, Va. —
At 5-foot-8 and 144 pounds, Graham senior quarterback Spencer Sheets is often the smallest player on the field.
No player was larger Friday night.
With a blend of quickness, creativity and courage, Sheets rallied the G-Men to a 21-20 win over the Marion Scarlet Hurricane.
“Marion is good, but we’ve always been a second half team,” Sheets said. “We work hard in conditioning and we love to drag teams into the final quarter. We’re a fourth quarter team.”
Feeding off its large homecoming crowd, Marion (3-2) opened a 13-0 lead at the 7:47 mark of the third quarter.
Graham’s little big man then began to take over.
With 7:15 left in the third, Sheets scored on a remarkable 78 interception return where he sprinted across the field and changed directions three times.
Less than a minute later, prolific Marion running back Ethan Richardson put his team up 20-7 with a 62-yard scoring run.
Sheets then efficiently engineered a 13-play, 73-yard scoring, which culminated in a 13-yard scoring run by 6-foot senior Cody Hatfield.
The decisive eight-play, 53-yard march for Graham (3-1) featured a 17-yard run on third down by Sheets, followed by an imaginative 22-yard scoring dash by Sheets with just 2:13 left to play.
“Both runs were basically the same and coach gave me a chance to make something happen,” Sheets said. “On the touchdown, it was supposed to be a pass. I rolled out and the defense blitzed off the end.
“The defense read the play, but my blockers blocked perfectly for me and I found a lane.”
Sheets followed his blockers, weaved through traffic and leaped over a pile of defenders for the final three yards.
“I knew that I didn’t have much time to left and I also knew how much this game meant to all of us, so I did whatever it took to get into that end zone,” said Sheets, who also made several big plays on defense.
Second-year Graham coach Mike Williams stresses a physical approach with his players. That tenacity was evident in the final minutes, as the Graham lineman gradually wore down the Scarlet Hurricane with technique and strength.
The storyline for last season’s 28-26 Graham win over Marion also featured a strong finish by the G-Men.
“We pride ourselves on fourth quarter performance,” Williams said. “We always feel like if we can drag a team into the final quarter we like our odds because of our mental and physical toughness.”
Graham, which struggled mightily on offense on the first half, finished with 162 yards rushing led by Hatfield with 79 yards on 29 carries. That was enough to overcome three fumbles, eight penalties and a wasted opportunity at the Marion one-yard line as time expired in the first half.
“We’ve got a strong run game, and over the course of four quarters that begins to wear on teams,” Williams said
While bruisers like Daelean Caffee (5-11 225), Michael Thompson (5-9, 201) and Chase Asbury (5-11, 209, jr.) provided the power for Graham, it was Sheets who supplied the big-play magic.
“Spencer has been doing that since I came here to coach,” said Williams, who also used Sheets at receiver.
“Spencer is explosive, he works hard and he’s a great character guy.”
Despite being the focus of the attacking Graham defense, Richardson accounted for 134 yards rushing and two scores on 20 carries.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Richardson entered the game averaging 199 yards per age and 9.6 yards per carry from Marion’s spread formation.
Marion coach Joey Carroll said the Scarlet Hurricanes were hurt more by “mental mistakes” than the persistence and power of Graham.
“We didn’t stay disciplined late in the game on those two runs by the [Graham] quarterback,” Carroll said. “He’s a mobile quarterback. He got loose and reversed field. The rest is history.”
Richardson, who was forced out of the game twice with injuries, was held to just 65 yards rushing on 13 carries in the first half.
Marion quarterback Trey Crook rushed for 55 yards, executed well on the option pitch and collected at least 10 tackles on defense.
The Marion coach realizes that defensive coordinators are centering their game plans on his senior star.
“We’ve got to be able to mix in some different things on offense,” Carroll said. “Tonight, we just weren’t able to do that.”
Carroll was also unable to find an answer for the smallest player on the field in Sheets.
“Spencer is a leader,” Williams said.
Graham......0 0 7 14 — 21
Marion......10 0 10 0 — 20
M-Glass 33 FG
M-Richardson 7 run (Glass kick)
M-Glass 32 FG
G-Sheets 78 interception return (Stowers kick)
M-Richardson 62 run (Glass kick)
G-Hatfield 13 run (Stowers kick)
G-Sheets 22 run (Stowers kick)
First Downs: G 15, M 11; Rushes-Yards: G 44-162, M 30-192; Passing Yards: G 70, M 37; Comp.-Att.-Int.: G 7-11-0, M 6-13-2; Fumbles-Lost: G 5-3, M 0-0; Penalties-Yards: G 8-50, M 9-85; Punts-Average: G 2-33, M 3-35.