The last time the Graham G-Men made a run to the state championship, a 5-foot-10 wide receiver named Ahmad Bradshaw left each opponent Graham faced scratching their heads.
Unfortunately for Bradshaw the G-Men, they came up short of the state crown as they fell to Harrisonburg in 2001.
It has been 17 years since Graham has played for a state title.
A lot has happened in 17 years. Graham has seen four different head coaches in that time span. The legendary Glynn Carlock passed away in 2005. Bradshaw won two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants. In 2010, the G-Men posted a 1-9 record—their worst since 1972.
However, this season, just like in 2001, the G-Men lay claim to Southwest Virginia’s best player.
Graham’s Cameron Allen has dazzled opposing defenses with his big arm and speedy wheels from the quarterback position. The future Purdue Boilermaker has also made big plays on defense. Whether it is an interception, a forced fumble or delivering a big hit, expect No. 10 to be close to wherever the football may be.
Since Tony Palmer took over in 2015, Graham is back on the track that Carlock once paved for it.
Palmer once was the number Carlock called quite often out of the backfield. He was a standout running back on a 13-1 team in 1989 that topped Southampton for the state championship. Palmer has compiled a record of 41-11 during his time at the helm of his alma mater.
In 2018, the G-Men have won 13 consecutive games dating back to a season opening loss to their archrival Bluefield (WV). A week ago, the Beavers came up just short in the WVSSAC AA state championship against Fairmont. The one loss is a respectable one and that puts it lightly.
In addition to Allen, Graham features a backfield with thoroughbreds such as Tre Booker and Jazaire Reed. Devin Allen is a do-it-all player for the G-Men. Nick Kastner and Aaron Edwards lead the defensive unit for Rex Bradshaw and Dennis Palmer.
Allen is not the only member of the G-Men that has garnered attention from the FBS level. Freshman offensive tackle Brody Meadows, who carries a 6-foot-6, 280-pound frame, already has an offer from Virginia.
When Graham meets the Goochland Bulldogs on Saturday, it will be the fourth time the easternmost Tazewell County high school has appeared in the state championship.
Let’s take a look back at the three prior appearances:
The 1989 Graham G-Men are continually viewed as one southwest Virginia’s best products on the gridiron. Under Carlock in 1989, the G-Men dominated their opposition as they pitched shutouts in their first eight games of the season. Graham’s shutouts of Bluefield (WV), Princeton (WV), Christiansburg, Grundy, Richlands, Blacksburg, Tazewell and Lebanon were enough to catch the attention of USA Today and ESPN.
The streak came to an end when the G-Men traveled to Salem to take on the Spartans. It was a game of the week atmosphere at Salem Stadium as both teams waltzed into the matchup with 8-0 records. Willis White and the mighty Spartans handed Graham its first loss in a 23-6 decision.
Behind Tony Palmer in the backfield, Graham finished the regular season strong with a 22-7 win over Radford.
The G-Men continued the string of dominance continued into the playoffs. Graham defeated Giles, Radford in a rematch and Rustburg on their way to state championship showdown with Southampton.
Unfortunately for Graham, Palmer broke his ankle in the state semifinals against Rustburg.
Southampton rolled into the state championship with a 12-1 record. The Indians had pitched four shutouts in 1989, including a state semifinal contest against Chancellor. The lone falter was a 16-7 loss against Tabb on Oct. 7th.
However, the G-Men went out and exerted their force against Southampton in a way they did in the first eight games of the season.
In front of a big crowd at Mitchell Stadium on December 2nd, Graham shutout Littleton Parker’s Southampton Indians, 16-0. It was a big day for a pair of Pattons—Mike and Chris. Chris Patton recovered two fumbles in the victory.
The 16-0 victory solidified Carlock’s first state championship while moving his record to 1-0 on the grandest stage in Virginia.
In 1995, the G-Men had another season to remember. Carlock’s 1995 version of the G-Men did not throw the first touchdown pass all season long. The G-Men looked to Brandon Banks, Milton Byard and Tony Easley to carry the load.
Graham started the season with a 26-20 victory over Fred Simon and the Bluefield Beavers. The next week Graham fell to the Lee High Generals in Ben Hur 21-19. A week later, Graham took home a 27-17 victory over Mike Cole’s Christiansburg Blue Demons. The G-Men found themselves in the loss column for the final time for 1995 when Greg Rowe and the Grundy Golden Wave took home a 21-20 victory over Graham at Nelson Memorial Field.
Graham went on to win nine in a row, including playoff wins over Christiansburg, Gate City and William Campbell.
On December 9th, the G-Men travelled to Chancellor to do battle with the King George Foxes. The Foxes had blown through the regular season and the playoffs to sit at 13-0 on the season behind Mike Pierce’s direction.
On a snowy, rainy and muddy afternoon, the G-Men held the Foxes to their lowest point total of the season. Brandon Banks led the offensive production for Graham. The senior running back dashed for 195 yards and three touchdowns on the G-Men’s way to a 23-18 state championship victory.
The G-Men established a strong run game with 282 yards on the ground in the state championship game. This came a week after a state semifinal performance in which William Campbell limited Graham to 54 yards.
Banks finished the season with 1,114 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Carlock had won the state championship for the second time in six years. It would be the only two state titles in a legendary 32-year stint at Graham.His lone falter in the state finals came in 2001.
In 2001, Carlock and the G-Men made a huge statement in the opening week as they defeated Bluefield 56-8. The next week, however, brought the lone blemish on Graham’s regular season. At Bill Brown Stadium, the G-Men fell to the Blacksburg Indians 29-21. The G-Men went on 11-game win streak, which included an Oct. 12 overtime win at Grundy, to make it back to the state title. The G-Men averaged 44 points a contest heading into the state championship. The state title matchup would be held at Williams Stadium on the campus of Liberty University. The G-Men’s opponent was the Harrisonburg Blue Streaks.
The Blue Streaks had experienced its ups and downs in 2001 under head coach Tim Sarver. Harrisonburg experienced a heartbreaker in a 7-6 loss to Handley in week one. The Blue Streaks compiled wins over Warren County, R.E. Lee-Staunton, Stuarts Draft, Spotswood and Waynesboro before falling to Turner Ashby that season. Afer the loss to Turner Ashby, Harrisonburg but together two wins against Broadway and Rockbridge County before losing the regular season finale to Fort Defiance.
Once the Blue Streaks entered the playoffs, they rolled past R.E. Lee-Staunton and Fort Defiance in rematches from the regular season. Harrisonburg met up with the Poquoson Islanders in the state semis and steamrolled to a 37-14 victory to set up the state final matchup with Ahmad Bradshaw and the gang.
H.T. Matthews led the G-Men attack into the state finals with 1,938 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. Senior running back Paco Jones added 1,616 yards on the ground while adding 12 touchdowns. Bradshaw, the sophomore sensation, had 804 yards receiving and nine touchdowns heading into the clash with the Blue Streaks.
However, it was Harrisonburg’s Akeem Jordan that stole the show for the Blue Streaks on a blustery December day for Harrisonburg as the Blue Streaks upsetthe G-Men 24-10.
Jordan rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the contest. He also intercepted a pass and made 11 tackles.
Jordan went on to play for James Madison University, where he was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2006. Jordan currently is a member of the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League after stints with the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins in the NFL.
In a game that Graham once held a 10-0 lead, it allowed 24 unanswered points to drop its first state championship contest.
While many things have changed since 2001, the G-Men have patiently awaited their moment. Behind Cam Allen, Graham seems to fire on all cylinders.
Tony Palmer looks to become the latest coach to join a fraternity of people to win a state title as a player and as a head coach.While Palmer’s head coach, Carlock, has been gone 13 years now, the approach Palmer has taken this year is similar to that of his ol’ ball coach.
Palmer will be the first to tell you that he hopes to find the same success that Carlock did in 1989 and 1995 again on Saturday.
Man, what a scene it would be in Bluefield, VA.
I am a graduate of Richlands High School—class of 2014. In May 2018, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism and History with a minor in war and Society from Virginia Tech.
My passions in life are numerous. We don’t have all day. This is not the place to divulge into Hokie Football, so I will shed some light on one of my other favorites.
I was born and raised in the coalfields of southwest Virginia—Richlands to be exact. I remember the first time I ever went to a high school football game (Richlands-Tazewell ’02). Since then, a passion has grown that is stronger than the current in the Clinch River. As a football player in this region, I was able to witness the passion oozing out of the hills firsthand. It was something that when I began college, people had a hard time believing the spectacle that is high school football in the coalfields. Luckily, I was able to go 42-8 in between the white lines on Fridays and Saturdays from 2010-2013. I look forward to having another platform to tell you my stories, your stories and their stories. Here’s to the good times and hoping I don’t leave you like I did Coach Greg Mance numerous times—by saying, “Gosh Durn It!”
Let’s talk, SWVA sports, Hokies, history or maybe even barbecue.