By BRAD KEITH
GRAHAM (September 29, 2017) — Graham (5-0) scored its final 16 points off Stephenville (4-1) penalties, and even the lone 15-yard flag – proven later to be a wrong call – against the Steers benefitted them while dooming the visiting Yellow Jackets at Newton Field Friday.
Graham remains undefeated after a second half safety and kickoff return for a touchdown keyed a 30-14 win in which they did not have to chase around the state’s fifth leading rusher in conferences 2A-6A.
Stephenville junior Krece Nowak suffered an injury to his ribs on what was called a late hit near the end of the first quarter. Talented Graham defensive end Preston Langely was working his way across the field and as can be seen on film of the play, was blocked as Nowak was tackled, and fell hard into the junior running back.
Langely was flagged but was justly allowed to continue, playing a significant role in the Steers holding Stephenville scoreless on its final 10 drives. Nowak, however, crumpled on the turf before being helped gingerly to the sideline, where he stayed for all but two plays during which it was clear he was not the same weapon that amassed 996 offensive yards the opening four weeks of the season.
Nowak was cutting through the Graham defense like a knife through butter before the injury, gaining 62 yards rushing and 12 receiving. He lost two yards on two plays in his attempt to get rolling agian in the second quarter, and emerged from the locker room in a sweat top, his helmet nowhere in site.
The Stephenville offense without Nowak in the second half proved to be as fruitless as his attempt to return to actin in the second quarter.
was fruitless, too, except when taking advantage of 12 Stephenville penalties for 123 yards. The Steers fittingly took the lead for good on a penalty – a holding call with the Jackets in their own end zone.
The ensuing kickoff was returned 65 yards for a touchdown by West Martin. Nine points in nine seconds gave Graham a 23-14 lead with 3:39 remaining in the third quarter. The Steers finished the scoring midway through the fourth, and require assistance from a Yellow Jacket penalty to achieve those points, too.
The Jackets stopped Graham cold on three straight plays from inside the five, only to commit a perusal foul after third down. It took three more plays for Chase Gilmore find the end zone against the physical Stephenville defense that frustrated much of the night.
With 138 yards and two TDs, Gilmore did his part in what could have been a star-studded exchange between two of the state’s top running backs if not for Langely’s late hit on Nowak, who had moor than half Gilmore’s production in the first 11 minutes, and that was with an 18 yard touchdown having been called back for a holding call.
That was back in the first quarter after Gilmore gave Graham a 7-0 lead on a 23-yard run. Stephenville answered with Jones hitting Clay Krause for a 27-yard TD, the same distance covered by a Tucker Horn-to-Ben Taylor TD strike to give the Steers a 14-7 edge that lasted until the opening play of he second quarter.
Graham lost yards on the ground when Gilmore wasn’t running, the Steers rushing for 109 yards and Stephenville just 85 including only 23 after the late hit injured Nowak.
Pressure at times and strong coverage at others limited both passing attacks. Horn, reported to be an Ivy League prospect, was 13-37 passing for 185 yards and two interceptions. Jones was 14-32 with an interception, passing for 136 Stephenville yards.
The teams combined for just 511 total yards, less than what Graham itself (and only 49 yards more than Stephenville itself) averaged entering the showdown of previously unbeaten teams.
It looked it a shootout was in the making after Graham scored its opening 14 points in the first nine minutes on a Stephenville defense that had no previously allowed more than 13 in the opening three quarters of a game.
But the defenses took over, Graham’s because Stephenville’s didn’t’ have Nowak, and Stephenville’s because linebacker Blu Caylor was everywhere, harassing Horn, containing Gimore and tackling receivers over the middle.
Forget fancying a playoff rematch with Nowak involved. Graham is in Division II of 4A so the Steers will be more concerned with Sweetwater and the likes come playoff time,when Stephenville is in the Division I bracket.
Stephenville is home for the first time since September 15 when Lubbock Monterey comes calling. The homecoming game next Friday at Memorial Stadium begins at 7:30 p.m.