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After exit, Graves eyes 2019





Graves County may have endured another early exit from the playoffs, but the Eagles are already looking on down the road to the 2019 football season.

Friday night's 54-35 loss to Grayson County in the Class 5A playoffs' first round closed out Graves County's season at 6-5. The game was like a microcosm of the 2018 year with a big hole the Eagles found themselves in early that was a bit too deep to dig out of, despite a late charge.

Graves, which opened the season 1-4, took a 14-13 lead in the first quarter but then trailed the Cougars 47-14 before mounting a 21-7 rally in the final seven minutes at Eagles Stadium.

"We're disappointed," head coach Lance Gregory said. "I think that's a game we could have won, but that falls on me. I didn't have our guys ready and we just didn't get it done.

"We kept fighting and that's the one positive is that we kept playing hard," he added, but also commented on tackling and turnovers limited their offensive opportunities.

"We just dug ourselves a pretty big hole," Gregory added.

Nine seniors will graduate from the team; six of whom played Friday following a rash of injuries that plagued a number of Eagles all season long.

The losses will be felt with players like wide receiver Drew Cooper, who led the team with 953 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, and linebacker Koby Lamb, who recorded 94 tackles to top that category. But perhaps nowhere will a senior's graduation be felt more prominently than with the hole quarterback Ryan Keith Mathis will leave.

Mathis was handed the reins of the Eagles' offense as a freshman and amassed 7,586 passing yards and 69 touchdowns. His senior season marked his best in the position with 2,319 passing yards and 23 TD passes.

"It's hard to replace that experience and the talent," Gregory said of Mathis, who will be moving from the gridiron to the hardwood. "He was one of the best athletes on the team, a great leader and made our offense go. It's going to be tough to fill his shoes.

"He's a great young man and we're going to miss him, as well as the other seniors."

Junior Cody Goatley, a standout linebacker and running back who is being courted by numerous college programs, filled in last season when Mathis was sidelined with a hamstring injury at the start of the season. He even set a single-game record against Murray by passing for 405 yards.

Gregory said Goatley, who was sidelined the final three games of the season due to a foot injury sustained at Christian County, could get the nod as signal-caller next year. He also noted that 6-foot-5 sophomore John Ben Brown will have the offseason to strengthen himself for the QB role.

"He's got a good arm, mechanics are still a little raw, but he has a year in the weight room and a year getting better in the offseason," Gregory said. "We'd love to have Cody running the ball and focus on being linebacker. But if Cody is the best option at the position when July and August comes around, then Cody will be the guy."

Another positive for 2019 will be the experience Graves' receiving corp and offensive line picked up this season after suffering big graduation hits the year prior. The Eagles' offensive line loses towering tackle Max Wilson, while Cooper is the lone receiver to exit.

Gregory said the offseason will contribute to those units improving even more for next year.

"We had only one senior starting on defense, so we have a lot of people back, and we have a strong freshman group," he said. "The sophomores who primarily played on JV will be a big force next year, and we have a great eighth grade group coming up.

"The numbers will be up, so we feel good about our depth and experience our young guys got this year."