Nov. 10—BLUEFIELD, Va. — Graham head football coach Tony Palmer never takes winning for granted, but things have gone so well for the G-Men for so long, it might be easy for folks on the periphery of the program not to notice how amazing the accomplishments have been.
Take running back Ty'Drez Clements, who has missed significant playing time during both his junior and senior seasons — yet all the while he's been chipping away at Ahmad Bradshaw's career rushing record of 5,252 yards.
Last week Clements finally eclipsed it, rushing for 160 yards and three touchdowns in a 43-0 win over Richlands in the Southwest District regular season finale.
The defense of Graham's 2023 state crown begins in earnest at Mitchell Stadium tonight as the G-Men (9-1) face Lee High (4-6) in the opening round of the VHSL Class 2D playoffs.
In addition to Clements' exploits, Chris Edwards cut an impressive figure on both sides of the football last week, scoring on a 39-yard interception return and hauling in a 53-yard scoring strike from quarterfback Dalton Roberts. Daniel Jennings — who got significant snaps at running back while Clements' rested and rehabbed in the regular season — stepped in and added a third quarter touchdown.
A lot of G-Men saw the field last week and may very well again this week, but Palmer has been eager to see the the original starting configurations he'd envisioned at the start of the season finally on the field together in time for a post-season run.
He sees overall improvement in team blocking, the defensive line is playing well and linebackers are playing well. It's starting to come together at the right time.
"I think the guys are starting to jell a litle bit. We had some injuries and things, but we're getting back and getting used to playing together again. I think it's going to be a one-game-at-a-time mentalty," Palmer said. "It's win or go home."
Last year as the No. 1 overall seed in Class 2, the G-Men enjoyed a home field advantage until leaving for the state championship game in Salem. This year if Graham gets past Lee High, it stands to face either Gate City or Marion at home next week.
If the G-Men get past that obstacle and Union is still standing, they'll head to Bullitt Park in Big Stone Gap, Va. to settle the Region 2D title game. From that point forward, Graham's travel itinerary [providing they keep winning] will be far less predictable than it was last year.
For Palmer, it was nice playing four playoff games at home last year. But in the end, 15 games is 15 games and you have to win the last five in order to bring home a state title.
"You could put them in a hat and shake them up and it wouldn't matter. You have to play in order to get get where you want to be anyway," said Palmer.
The Generals, who are led by quarterback Brynnen Pendergraft and running back Grayson Huff, are coming off two consecutive losses, the most recent being a 56-43 loss to Abingdon.
Lee High is coached by player alumnus Joey Carroll and is located geographically in colorfully named Ben Hur, Va. in spite of the school's Jonesville, Va. mailing address.
The High School name and team mascot and is named after Revolutionary War General 'Lighthorse Harry' Lee — as opposed to Robert E.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.