Sep. 23—BLUEFIELD, Va. — The Graham G-Men and the Galax Maroon Tide both played in Salem City Stadium last December on the same day, but with different kickoff times. The Tide ended its season as Class 1 state runner up. The G-Men, as Class 2 state runner up.
Both teams will converge on Mitchell Stadium tonight to settle any regular season differences between the two.
"Before the season started out, I figured that Galax would be one of the tougher teams we play. Now that I've seen them on film I know that I was absolutely correct," said Graham head coach Tony Palmer, whose team got a major leg up on its playoff ambitions in last week's hard-fought 17-8 win over Union at Bullitt Park.
"It was a hard-fought football game. Union did a good job, as we expected. Coach Turner did his thing and those guys came to play," Palmer said.
Galax was 3-0 headed into last week's 28-7 loss to Radford, which is currently the top-ranked Class 1 squad in Region C.
Before last week's sudden stop, the Maroon Tide swamped Carroll County 42-7, a game that saw running back Tedruhn Taylor rush for 195 yards and four touchdowns while teammate Brady Lowe rushed for 130 yards and two TD's. For Taylor, at least, the rushing tally was in line with the 210 yards he churned out in season opening 27-20 win over Glenvar.
Quarterback Mason Cox is the second consecutive converted receiver to call the signals for Galax since Cole Pickett graduated. Giles fell 28-14 to the Tide in a Mountain Empire District matchup.
Palmer doesn't expect his players to take much comfort from the timing of Galax's most recent setback versus the Bobcats.
"They're a good football team. They play hard," said Palmer. "They play hard and they do what they do. You'd better be ready to play four quarters when you play them. They're very good, well-coached and physical. They've got a good running back that runs downhill and the quarterback throws the ball pretty well. They want to run the ball and their passing opens up off their running.""
Ty'Drez Clements led the G-Men against the Bears last week, battling for 146 yards on 22 carries, including two first-half touchdown runs. Clements has grown into a more physical ball-carrier this season, said Palmer, and at Big Stone Gap last week, it showed.
"He was good for us last year as a sophomore and he's improved and gotten bigger and stronger and is continuing to get better every time we play," Palmer said.
"He's put on more muscle. He probably gained 15-20 pounds from last year. He's very important to us. He's an outstanding player and a great kid ... he's fun to be around. He's a positive kid who's going to do what you ask of him and you know he's going to give you his best effort," the G-Men head coach said.
Graham excelled at what Palmer has before called 'the battle of manhood' that archetypally defines traditional Southwest Virginia football, at one point grinding out nearly eight minutes off the third quarter clock. But he knows toughness must be combined with nuance to achieve what the G-Men ultimately seek this year.
"I think we have multiple styles that we can play. I think as the season goes on, our passing game is starting to become a little more efficient, which will hopefully create somemore problems for other teams," said Palmer.
He credits quarterback Brayden Meadows with continually refining that aspect of his game this season. Meadows is getting better at reading the entire field. Braden Watkins and his fellow pass-catchers are also improving at their roles.
Connor Roberts and Meadows headed up a superb defensive effort against Union last week that Palmer expect to see built upon against the Maroon Tide tonight.
"Really, our front four, all those guys are really good. I think Ty'Drez is doing a nice job on the back end ... him and Watkins. It's just been a team effort defensively," said Palmer, whose chief aim is keeping his players continually focused on the game that lies in front of them each week.
"We're going to have to get better every week if we're going to try to make a run. There's a lot of football to be played before we can even start talking about playoffs. We've got a pretty good schedule. After you play Galax, you've got an athletic Virginia High team, then you've got to turn around and play Pulaski County. We've got a lot of meat left on the bone," Palmer said.
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