Photo by Robert Turner
Grainger Today Correspondent
PIGEON FORGE – Grainger High School senior Jacob Bunch ran through, around or over Pigeon Forge High School defenders as he led the Grizzlies to a sterling 34-28 victory over the Tigers Friday night. In amassing 306 rushing yards on 29 carries, scoring two touchdowns, throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass in his only passing attempt and scoring a two-point conversion, Bunch shattered the Grizzly record for rushing yards gained in a single football game.
Bunch amassed 143 yards on 20 carries in the first half, but missed considerable time in the second half as he was suffering from cramps. He ran the ball only nine times in the second half but racked up 163 yards for an 18-yard average in the final two quarters.
“The first thing is God gave me the ability,” said Bunch of his performance. “I give him all the glory. The five guys up front plus Chase (Muncy), when we were running tank or hammer, got it done. I didn’t know I had that many yards, but it was a very exciting season opener. Now we’ve got to watch film and get ready for Sullivan South next week.”
Although it was an outstanding performance by Bunch, it was far from a one-man effort as every Grizzly did their job. Grainger got a strong performance from Zac Courter, who quarterbacked the team, scored two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, did a good job with punting and also intercepted a pass. The defense was led by senior Reagan Wiser, who had an interception, and junior Preston Owens, who had an interception and numerous defensive plays that displayed his speed and athleticism.
After winning the toss and receiving the opening kick, the Grizzlies were unable to move the ball and were forced to punt. However, a good kick by Courter was returned to the Grizzly 45-yard line. From there, the Tigers’ strong running attack overcame a holding penalty to move the ball to the Grainger 10-yard line in four plays for a first-and-goal. After the Tigers gained a yard on first down, Tyler Hodge tackled the quarterback for a loss of 4 yards. Senior Cody Staley forced a hurried incomplete throw by the quarterback on third down before senior Reagan Wiser intercepted the ball in the end zone to end the threat and give the Grizzlies the ball at their own 20-yard line.
From their own 20-yard line, the Grizzlies launched a 13-play, 80-yard drive that took 6:35 off the clock and ended in the end zone on the third play of the second stanza. That drive featured 12 carries by Bunch, with runs of 25, 10, 9 and 7 yards, before Bunch punched the ball into the end zone. The two-point conversion attempt failed as Grainger jumped on top 6-0 with 10:38 remaining in the half.
The ensuing kick off went out of bounds with Pigeon Forge taking possession at their own 35-yard line. On first down, a Tiger pass was intercepted by Courter at the Grainger 39-yard line. A 33-yard return of the interception put the Grizzlies in business at the Pigeon Forge 27-yard line. Four runs by Bunch put the ball at the 15-yard line. From there, Bunch’s 15-yard pass to Mark Lemka put six additional points on the board. A two-point conversion run by Courter gave the Grizzlies a 14-0 lead with 6:40 remaining in the half.
After putting the ball in play at their own 25-yard line, the Tigers overcame strong defensive efforts from seniors Devon Kinsler, Reagan Wiser and Chase Muncy to mount a 75-yard drive in seven plays to cut the Grainger lead to 14-7.
Preston Owens gave Grainger good field position, with at 34-yard return of the kickoff, to start a Grizzly drive at their own 44-yard line. The first play was a 45-yard jaunt by Bunch, a 4-yard run by Bunch and a 5-yard run by Wiser before Courter took it the final two yards for the touchdown. A fumbled snap foiled the two-point conversion attempt as the Grizzlies led 20-7 at the half.
After the Tigers received the second-half kickoff, the strong defensive play of Owens, Muncy, Staley and Lakin Ratliff forced a three-and-out that gave Grainger the ball at their own 32-yard line. However, the Grizzlies followed with a three-and-out before the Tigers then took possession at their own 45-yard line. Pigeon Forge moved the ball to the Grizzly 21-yard line before two tackles by Jake Myers and one from Logan Moody helped turn the ball over on downs at the Grainger 11-yard line.
Although the Grizzlies got a 57-yard gain by Bunch and a 25-yard pass from Courter to Mark Lemka, the Grizzlies were unable to overcome a personal foul as the scoreless third quarter ended, and the game moved to the final stanza with the Grizzlies holding the 20-7 lead.
As the game moved into the final quarter, the Tigers scored on a 45-yard pass and successfully kicked the extra point to cut the Grainger lead to 20-14. After the kickoff, the Grizzlies used an eight-play drive that featured 34 yards from Bunch and 13 yards from Courter with the final six for a touchdown. A successful two-point effort by Bunch upped the Grainger lead to 28-14 with 6:26 remaining in the game.
During the second play of the Tigers next possession, Preston Owens intercepted the ball to give Grainger the ball at its own 22-yard line.
Three plays gained 7 yards for Grainger and forced a punt that Pigeon Forge put in play at their own 47-yard line. In spite of a exceptional break up of a Tiger pass by Owens, Pigeon Forge was able to score in under two minutes. The extra-point kick was good as the Grainger lead shrunk to 28-21 with 1:55 remaining in the contest.
The Tigers were unable to execute an on-side kick as they were ruled offside twice. They then kicked the ball to the Grizzly 29-yard line, where it appeared the Grizzlies would run out the clock. However, Bunch then took the ball 71 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed as the Grainger lead stood at 34-21.
Thirty-six seconds later, the Tigers responded with a touchdown and extra point to cut the lead to 34-28 with 1:08 remaining in the game. An on-side kick attempt from Pigeon Forge was recovered by Lemka. The Grainger offense then took a knee twice to ice the game and start the season with a victory.
“He had a good game,” said head coach Chad Tate in an understatement of the performance by Bunch. “He’s a special player, but it’s a team effort. The offensive line and everybody else did their jobs. It’s a special unbelievable team performance. Bunch went down in the second half with cramps, but we got some big defensive stops and were able to move the ball even though we didn’t score. We won the battle of turnovers as we intercepted three passes and didn’t turn the ball over any. The defense played really good, but Pigeon Forge got us in some situational stuff on the last two scores. We have to do a better job of tightening the defense in the two minute offense. We’ve got plenty to work on, and we’re really happy about the win.”
The Grizzlies will return home Friday night for a very important game against region rival Sullivan South, who have started their season with two big victories.