Corey Graham gets first start at QB, leads Oak Park past Clarkston, 14-7
Oak Park – Corey Graham of Oak Park new all week that he would be the starting quarterback when the Knights hosted Clarkston on Friday.
For some quarterbacks that might not be something out of the ordinary. For Graham is was. He’s a sophomore who played on the junior varsity last season and this was to be his first varsity start.
Graham passed his first big test as he threw for two touchdowns leading Oak Park to a much-needed 14-7 victory in an Oakland Activities Association crossover game between a team on Oakland County’s south side (Oak Park) against one located in the northern section on a rainy night at Oak Park.
Oak Park (4-2) has won four straight and needs two more victories to automatically qualify for the state playoffs.
Clarkston is also 4-2 and it was its first loss to Oak Park after winning the first five.
Oak Park made its share of mistakes (13 penalties, 90 yards) in the raw and wet conditions but Graham kept his miscues to a minimum.
Graham played in lopsided victories over North Farmington (41-0) and Farmington (42-0) but when Dwan Mathis, Oak Park’s much-heralded sophomore quarterback, was sidelined earlier this week due to an illness coach Greg Carter gave Graham his chance to start. Mathis did play and the two alternated at quarterback throughout the first half but it was Graham who had the large majority of the snaps in the second half.
He responded by completing 5-of-9 for 84 yards and those two touchdowns, and no interceptions.
“I was just playing, trying to get the win,” Graham said. “This is going to get us some playoff points. This is a big win against a good team.
“I did gain some confidence with this. My nerves went away after that first drive. Dwan was sick this week and I worked hard this week preparing. This is a lot faster than playing (on) junior varsity. This is the first big team I played against.”
Neither team showed much offensively, especially in the first half. Clarkston was held to 14 yards and one first down in the first 24 minutes, and that was by penalty. Oak Park had two first downs before Graham threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to receiver Keveon Clark with 2:53 left in the half.
Two Oak Park fumbles led directly to Clarkston’s touchdown in the second half.
Kyle Genter recovered a muffed punt at the Oak Park 41-yard line but the Wolves’ drive stalled at the Oak Park 8-yard line.
Oak Park gained one first down but Mathis was stripped of the ball as he went back to pass and Carson Stottlemyer recovered for Clarkson on Oak Park’ 12. On the next play running back Michael Fluegel ran it in for a touchdown and the score was tied at 7-7 with 57.9 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Knights began what would be their winning drive on their 20. Graham completed his only two attempts on the eight-play drive, the second to DaJohn Davis from 31 yards out for the touchdown. Davis deserve much of the credit for making the play as he split two defenders at the 4-yard line and waltzed into the end zone with 8:43 remaining.
Clarkston had two turnovers in the final 8:28 to douse any opportunity it might have had to score.
“I’m not talking about the weather,” Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson said. “We played in it. They played in it.
“They were the better team on both sides. We didn’t get any push off the ball. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got West Bloomfield next week.”
Back to Oak Park’s quarterbacks. Carter said he will continue to alternate Graham and Mathis. He said both can be effective if not similar. Mathis is 6-4 and a sturdy 185 pounds. Graham is 5-11 and 150 pounds.
“Corey is special,” Carter said. “And everybody knows Dwan is a big-time quarterback. Corey took care of the ball. We knew he was going to be nervous.”