Graves leads Lions to unforgettable year

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In eighth grade, Garrett Graves wrote on his locker three goals for his high school athletic career.

1.) Win a state football title

2.) Win a state wrestling title

3.) Earn a Division I scholarship

In one remarkable season Graves did all that and more, leading Eureka to the best athletic season in school history while turning an entire state into believers.

“He has that ability,” Eureka wrestling coach Danny Lemer said. “He steps up to the big stage. He’s going to bring it and he’s going to win. That’s just who he is.

“He’s every athlete that you want. He’s obviously very gifted and talented, but his attitude is outstanding.

“He likes the challenges. He doesn’t avoid the big games. He likes to be in that moment and he’s able to carry himself through.”

Graves did it all in spectacular fashion, leading a football team picked to win two games at the start of the season to a nearly perfect season.

Losing only one game in the regular season, Eureka made the state title game for just the second time in school history.

Playing Loyola in Missoula, Eureka took an early lead in the game but fell behind in the second half.

Loyola tried to put the game away with a minute to play, going for a touchdown on fourth down near the Lions’ goal line.

Graves, who played both ways for the Lions, hit the Loyola quarterback on a blitz to force an incompletion and get the ball back for Eureka.

Starting from its own 4-yard line, Graves quarterbacked the Lions to the Loyola 38 with no timeouts, the clock running out and only enough time for one play.

“I looked at the guys and yelled, ‘Get open!’,” Graves said. “I knew we didn’t have very much time left. All the marbles were on that play. When I said, ‘Hike.’, I was looking for the end zone.”

Hit on the final throw, he was on the ground when senior receiver Austyn Sherwood caught the Hail Mary pass, backing in for a touchdown to give Eureka its first state football championship.

“I just see these two hands come out of nowhere and grab (the ball),” Graves said. “I just started bawling instantly. I jumped up and started running toward the dogpile.

“I was ecstatic.”

He wasn’t the only one. The entire city made their pride known as the Lions returned that night.

“You don’t realize how big of an impact a football team can have on a small town like this until you do something like win the state championship game. Everybody was coming to our games. We were in all the storefronts. I’ve never seen that many emergency vehicles line the road (like when) we were on the road home from the state championship game. I didn’t even know we had that many in the area.

“There was so much support and love from our home town.”

He jumped almost immediately into wrestling season, and never slowed down. Graves cleaned up the 182-pound class, rolling undefeated to the Class B/C state championship. He earned pins in his first three matches at the state meet, all in less than 2 minutes, 40 seconds.

But, like in football, he made the championship match exciting.

Winning 9-2 in the second period, Graves was caught by Glasgow’s Tony Kaiser, who put Graves in a tight headlock and worked towards a pin for nearly 10 seconds. Graves escaped, and with his lead down to 9-7 was able to get to the third period, where he pulled away again to help Eureka to its first team wrestling title in school history.

“He has that will to win,” Lemer said. “He was down big. It was a gut-wrenching moment. He was able to pull through with the character he has. He wasn’t going to lose. He made it a little nervous for everyone else.”

He was limited in track season after hurting himself in the triple jump but impressed coaches around the state. By the time he competed in football camps this summer he had a pair of Division I offers from Montana and Montana State.

He chose to verbally commit to the Griz, which when he signs will make him just the third Eureka football player to play in Missoula.

“I knew I wanted to stay in state,” Graves said. “After a lot of sleepless nights, I decided to pull the trigger on UM. I’m very happy with that decision and very excited to continue my career there.”

While he may have accomplished everything on his list last year, he’s not looking to slow down.

He has another year of big moments ahead of him in Eureka, and another set of big goals to check off.

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