VHSL STATE FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS: Graham hosts Appomattox in Class 2
BLUEFIELD, Va. – Graham head football coach Tony Palmer has long stressed the importance of a family connection in the G-Men program.
The past two weeks have offered a testament to the strength of that family bond.
On Nov. 15, Palmer’s father, Butch, died from lingering health issues.
On Nov. 20, Tony Palmer led his team to a 48-13 victory over Union in the Region 2D semifinals.
“The kids got together and rallied around me,” Palmer said. “They told me they loved me and that they were going to win for me.”
Graham won again last Saturday, posting a 49-21 decision against Ridgeview in the Region 2D title game.
Today at Mitchell Stadium in Bluefield, the G-Men (12-0) will face the Appomattox Raiders (11-1) in the Class 2 semifinals.
Appomattox features a variety of speedy play makers. But Palmer said he is proud of how his squad has overcome challenges all season, including a 14-0 second quarter deficit against Ridgeview last week.
“I was worried, but we did a great job of dealing with adversity,” Palmer said. “Our kids play for each other and don’t want to let each other down.”
Last week’s adversity centered around quarterback Zack Blevins. The rugged six-foot-two senior was forced to limp off the field at the 11:54 mark of the second quarter due to a calf injury.
Following a tense period of treatment on the team bench, Blevins returned three minutes later and promptly guided his team to a scoring drive.
A 1,184-yard rusher and defensive captain at linebacker, Blevins carried the ball just once the remainder of the game and never returned on defense. But he threw for a pair of scores.
“I wanted to be out there with my team,” Blevins said. “That’s what a senior does.”
For longtime Graham fans, the heroism of Blevins was just the latest chapter in rich annals of Graham High School football.
Palmer knows the stories and the tradition.
“At age nine, I watched the “Snow Bowl” game at Mitchell Stadium from the fence with my father and I remember crying when I thought Graham was going to lose,” Palmer said. “When [Graham] quarterback Eddie Neel threw a touchdown pass to Lee Grimes, my dad said I took off running down the sidelines with the team.”
Butch Palmer also attended Graham High School.
“Dad was a big time G-Man, and I was bred to be a G-Man,” Palmer said. “I played on the 1989 state championship team here and we’ve always taken pride in playing a tough brand of football.”
Another key component of Graham’s latest quest for state gold involves the chemistry of the coaching staff. Palmer serves as the offensive coordinator, while Rex Bradshaw and Dennis Palmer (no relation) direct the defense.
“We’re a bunch of brothers,” Tony Palmer said. “We pick on each other and have a good time, but we get to work when it’s time. My assistants have done an amazing job preparing our players.”
It has been an emotional rollercoaster for Palmer and his extended band of brothers the past two weeks. Today’s ride will unfold at a historic field where the Graham head coach grew up.
“It’s pretty special to play here at Mitchell,” Palmer said. “The kids have helped me through this and I’m very proud of them.
“We are family here. We just don’t say that, we mean it.”
email@example.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544
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