SWEETWATER — Graham knew Midland Greenwood quarterback Kam Williams was going to be a tough customer.
But the Steers didn't really plan on helping the Rangers out by giving up five turnovers.
They can thank their shutdown defense and a couple of huge plays by Bryce Reeves for allowing them to overcome those self-inflicted wounds and eliminate Greenwood, 41-23, Friday night at the Mustang Bowl.
It was the second time this season Graham (12-1) has overcome a 14-0 deficit. The Steers were able to hang around until halftime — when they trailed 23-21 — and then the defense pitched a second-half shutout and Reeves scored on a 100-yard fourth-quarter interception to put the game away.
Graham advances to face Gatesville, a 37-34 winner over Monahans on Friday, for the Class 3A Region I championship at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Stephenville.
Reeves made a big-play during Graham's 21-point second quarter with a 62-yard catch and run on a bomb from Ben Davis.
His 100-yard effort, which came on his second interception of the season, turned the lights out on the Rangers, who looked to be in the process of cutting the Graham lead to 35-30 with more than nine minutes to play.
It was set up by one of those little plays that gets lost in a big-play game. Hunter Walls cut through the line and turned first-and-goal from the 2 into second-and-goal from the 4. Then instead of running the ball as he had for three first-half touchdowns, Greenwood quarterback Williams tried to fit a pass into a tight space in the end zone.
"We were in cover-3 and I just read the quarterback's eyes," Reeves said.
Reeves picked it off and had about a 10-man escort to the end zone. His teammates were still telling him after the game how hard they ran to catch up and make blocks.
"I got a lot of good blocks and I just followed them all the way to the house," Reeves said. "We came out in the second half and (were) just making plays. We didn't play our football in the first half."
The second-half shutout, which was highlighted by that end-to-end return, more than made up for five turnovers and 111 yards of penalties. Graham allowed only 64 yards and two first downs after halftime. It helped turn a 23-14 deficit into a 41-23 victory.
Graham coach Kenny Davidson thought his team adjusted in the second half and "got used" to what the Rangers were doing. But he gave all the credit to his players for finding a way.
"The bottom line is the kids made plays," Davidson said. "Two defensive touchdowns ... it's one of those years.
"Bryce, that kid is a junior and he's a playmaker. He did a great job catching the ball from the receiver position."
His pick-6 will get the attention but Reeves indeed was a playmaker offensively, too. He had six catches for 140 yards, including the 62-yarder that cut the Greenwood lead to 17-14.
"Our quarterback was just reading coverage and the corner squatted," Reeves said. "He laid it out there for me."
Davis did throw two interceptions on the night and had another one erased by penalty. But he was sharp other than that, hitting 15-of-21 passes for 231 yards.
And running back Dillon Gonzales followed up his four-touchdown game a week ago with 188 yards of offense and three touchdowns. He rushed for 138 yards and caught three passes for 50 yards.
"We've been down before and that's the good thing about being down in preseason games and we're prepared for this," Gonzales said. "The defense gave us fire tonight. We were all down and the defense made plays."
The first one that gave Graham life came on the third play of the second quarter. Greenwood had stopped the Steers three times and led 14-0 on TD runs of 5 and 1 yards by Williams.
As the Rangers entered Graham territory again they met resistance as Williams was separated from the ball with a hit and Hunter Hughes scooped the ball up and sprinted 56 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-7.
Graham nearly had a defensive score on the next possession, but an apparent lateral was ruled an incomplete pass. And Hunter Jones, who had several good punt returns, took one of the house for what looked like an 83-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
There was a block in the back called at the 20 so Jones got credit for 63 yards. Gonzales made it a moot point with a 30-yard touchdown run around left end on the next play, extending the lead to 35-23.
Graham took the lead on its first possession of the third quarter with a six-play, 78-yard hurry-up special featuring three completions, including a 31-yarder to Reeves, and three runs by Gonzales, who scored from the 3.
Williams finished with 79 yards on 26 carries to lead Greenwood (9-4). He completed 15-of-32 passes for 108 yards, but the sure-tackling secondary made sure those 32 attempts went for just an average of 3.4 yards per pass attempt.
Reeves had just eight fewer yards after his interception with his memorable journey from end zone to end zone.
The Steers all talked about being happy about returning to the practice field next week. After a quarter it didn't feel like a certainty, but a big-play barrage for the next three quarters made a date with Gatesville a reality.
GRAHAM 41, MIDLAND GREENWOOD 23
Midland Greenwood 14 9 0 0—23
Graham 0 21 14 6—41
MG — Kam Williams 5 run (Elam Tavarez kick), 8:16
MG — Kam Williams 1 run (Elam Tavarez kick), 3:48
G — Hunter Hughes 54 fumble return (Fidel Herrera kick), 11:12
MG — Elam Tavarez 26 FG, 7:02
G — Bryce Reeves 62 pass from Ben Davis (Fidel Herrera kick), 6:16
MG — Kam Williams 5 run (pass failed), 1:43
G — Dillon Gonzales 2 run (Fidel Herrera kick), 0:24
G — Dillon Gonzales 3 run (Fidel Herrera kick), 10:37
G — Dillon Gonzales 30 run (Fidel Herrera kick), 4:18
G — Bryce Reeves 100 interception return (kick failed), 9:20
First downs 12 20
Rushes-yards 37-114 38-167
Passing 108 231
Comp-Att-Int 15-32-1 15-21-2
Punts-Avg. 8-42.1 2-27
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 4-3
Penalties-Yds. 9-84 12-111
RUSHING — Midland Greenwood, Kam Williams 26-79, Braydin Moreland 8-30, Call Carmichael 1-6, Dustin Rea 1-0, TEAM 1-(-1). Graham, Dillon Gonzales 23-138, Ben Davis 7-4, Hagen Hughes 8-36, TEAM 1 — 11.
PASSING — Midland Greenwood, Kam Williams 15-32-108-1. Graham, Ben Davis 15-21-231-2.
RECEIVING — Midland Greenwood, Colin Sullivan 7-61, Mason Fraley 4-25, Brackston Buck 2-15, Braydin Moreland 2-7. Graham, Bryce Reeves 6-140, Dillon Gonzales 3-50, Hunter Jones 3-15, Janson Graham 2-14, Jerrod Mahan 1-12.