Graham and Union set for another playoff showdown

Region D, 2A Semi Finals

Graham G-Men (10-1, 5-0) 3-seed

at

Union Bears (9-2, 4-2) 2-seed

 

Two of the most successful Region D programs in recent memory will meet this week. The Graham G-Men travel to Big Stone Gap to take on the Union Bears in the Region D semi finals. The two teams have won a combined 84 games since 2015, with both teams winning double digit games in 2016 and 2017. Along with being two of the most successful teams in the region, there is plenty of recent history. There has been three previous playoff meetings, dating back to 2012, with Union winning all three.

The home team might be considered a slight underdog headed into the contest. This is not a common occurrence for the Bears. Union has had another successful season, winning nine games and their playoff opener, but this year’s squad dropped two regular season games. The first loss was on the road to the top seeded Ridgeview Wolfpack, and the second came at home to 3A Abingdon.

Union relies on a power run game to score points and dominate the time of possession. Running out of a full house or T-formation backfield behind a veteran offensive line, four different Bears have shown the ability to take over games. Senior Avery Jenkins leads the rushing attack for Union, having already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the season. The offense has became one dimensional at times this season and opposing defenses have stacked the box to counter the rushing attack. The Bear defense is a talented unit with playmakers at every level and has made games rough on opposing runners and quarterbacks.

On the other side, Graham is a big play, explosive offense in every sense. Led by senior quarterback and Purdue commit Cam Allen, the G-Men offense can score from any spot on the field. Allen has a big arm and is not afraid to attack downfield, throw in the middle of the field or show off his elite athleticism by scrambling. Allen has accounted for over 2,000 total yards and 36 total touchdowns (21 rushing, 15 passing).

Devin Lester can take over a game in numerous ways as a runner and receiver. Lester is a matchup nightmare that can score in several different ways. Lester has done most of his damage as a wide out, scoring 10 of his 14 touchdowns as a receiver. Jazaire Reed serves as the primary back for the Graham offense and is healthy for this year’s meeting after suffering an injury early in the 2017 campaign. Tre Booker, who has bounced between Graham and Richlands, is also a valuable contributor as a runner.

While known for the explosive offense, the G-Men defense is often overlooked but has been one of the better units in the region. Allowing only 14 points per game, the unit can slow down opposing run games but wreaks havoc on passing downs. Allen, who was recruited by several Power 5 schools as a defensive back, has a knack for showing off his elite ball skills as a defender. If Allen gets his hands on an errant pass, he can take it to the house in a blink.

Special teams could be a major deciding factor between two evenly matched teams. Union has an excellent field goal kicker in senior Justin Falin, but Graham also boasts an exceptional special teams unit with their ability to return kicks.

Both teams score points in bunches, but in different ways. Union relies on quick starts and taking an early lead, scoring 16 points per game in the first half. Graham does most of their damage after the half, exploiting teams’ fatigue and scoring 23 points per game in the second half. Graham is excellent coming out of the half, putting up 18 points per game in the third quarter.

Another major factor is the home field advantage as Union has defended their home field as well as any team in the region. The Bears feed on their raucous crowd, a crowd that can cause mistakes from the opposing team.

Graham is all too familiar with Bullitt Park, having been eliminated by Union at home in 2015 and 2017. The G-Men look for revenge and to capture head coach Tony Palmer’s first Region D title while the Bears are hoping to win and advance to the Region D championship game in back-to-back years.

Tale of the Tape:

Union:

  • 9-2 overall, 4-2 in the Mountain 7
  • 5-1 at home, 4-1 on road
  • Offense scores 29 points per game
  • Defense allows 15 points per game
  • 3-0 lifetime against Graham

Graham:

  • 10-1 overall, 5-0 in the Southwest
  • 5-0 on the road, 5-1 at home
  • Offense scores 38 points per game
  • Defense allows 14 points per game
  • 0-3 lifetime against Union

Fast Facts:

  • Union coach Travis Turner is 2-3 in the second round of the playoffs at home.
  • Palmer is 1-2 on the road in the playoffs, both losses at Union.
  • Union holds a 3-0 edge in playoff meetings, outscoring Graham by 25 points per game in those matchups.
  • Graham has won ten straight games since dropping their opener to Bluefield

Gametime:

2:00 pm, Saturday, November 17th at Bullitt Park in Big Stone Gap.

For complete playoff coverage, visit http://coalfieldsports.com

Seth. Sports fan. Big Stone Gap native. Freelance writer. Knows the difference between a 3-4 and a 4-3 as well as the species of the symbiote from Spider-Man (Klyntar). A decade plus covering local high school sport in one capacity or another. Takes himself very, very seriously. Hire me!!!!

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