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October 18, 2017

Grizzly offense playing on a rainy Friday night against the Sullivan South Rebels.

Photo by Robert Turner

Grizzlies drop hard-fought game to the Rebels

Elmer Smith
Grainger Today Correspondent

RUTLEDGE – “We were just so inconsistent on offense,” said Grainger High School head coach Chad Tate in discussing the Grizzlies’ performance in its home season opener against Sullivan South last Friday. “That’s what it boiled down to. We didn’t have any turnovers, but we put the ball on the ground at least four or five times. That was a big difference in the game.”

After Sullivan South won the toss, the Rebels deferred their option to the second half. A 24-yard return of the opening kickoff by Mark Lemka gave Grainger the ball at their own 25-yard line. After Jacob Bunch gained a couple of yards on the first play, the Grizzlies showed their running game was not a one person show as Preston Owens rambled 30 yards for a first down at the Rebel 43-yard line. That was followed by a 6-yard gain from Lemka and a 37-yard touchdown run by Andrew Armstrong, as Grainger scored on a four-play, 75-yard drive in 1:36 to take a 6-0 lead. The two-point conversion attempt failed with 10:24 remaining in the first quarter.

On its first possession, the Rebels recorded a first down at the Grainger
41-yard line before big stops by Armstrong and a tackle for a loss by sophomore Lawrence Ratliff was followed by an incomplete pass. That resulted in a punt and touchback with Grainger putting the ball in play at their own 20-yard line. The Grizzlies had a pair of runs by Bunch, a recovered fumble and a Rebel offside penalty to move the chains before before failing to move the chains again. A kick off the side of the foot resulted in a 22-yard punt, which allowed South to put the ball in play at their own 46-yard line. From there, a busted coverage by the defensive backfield allowed the Rebels to strike for 54-yard touchdown pass and a conversion kick to take a 7-6 lead at the 8:28 mark of the first quarter. After that, neither team was able to mount a sustained drive for the remainder of the quarter.

On their next possession, the Rebels faced outstanding performances by Owens and Lemka, who had two big plays, one of which saved a touchdown on a pass play. Reagan Wiser made a big stop which forced a punt that Grainger returned to their own 33-yard line.

On the initial play of the possession, a holding call wiped out a substantial gain and left the Grizzlies facing a second down and 19 yards to go. After Bunch caught an 18-yard pass, he reeled off gains of 10, 3 and 10 yards for a first down at the Sullivan South 37-yard line. On the next play, Bunch took it to the house, but a holding penalty negated the score and set up a second down and 18 yards to go. Two carries by Bunch for 10 yards and a 4-yard gain by Wiser, plus an offsides call against the Rebels, set up a third-and-seven where Bunch bulled his way for 8 yards and a first down at the Sullivan South 26-yard line. A fumbled snap and another fumble were overcome by a pair of rushes for Bunch to gain a first down at the Rebel 15-yard line. Three additional plays left Grainger facing a fourth-and-two at the South 7-yard line. However, a mishandled snap ended the drive with 49 seconds remaining in the half. “When you put it on the ground like that, it’s a drive killer,” said Tate. “That was a big difference in the game.”

Although the drive covered 54 yards on 16 carries and took over 9 minutes off the clock, it didn’t result in any points for the Grizzlies. With the Grizzlies in a prevent defense, the Rebels quickly moved the ball down field where a 41-yard field goal was wide left and short as the first half ended with Sullivan South holding a 7-6 lead.

Neither team moved the ball on their first possession of the second half. However on its second possession, the Rebels put together a nine-play, 65-yard drive for a touchdown and then added the extra point for a 14-6 lead with 4:26 remaining in the third quarter.

On the ensuing kick off, the Grizzlies had poor field position as their drive started from their own 15-yard line. After runs by Bunch and Owens moved the chains, runs of 5 and 36 yards by Bunch gave the Grizzlies a first down at the Sullivan South 13-yard line. A personal foul penalty on the Rebels put the ball on the 6-yard line before three runs of 2 yards each by Bunch resulted in a touchdown with 56 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Bunch then pounded his way into the end zone for a two-point conversion and a 14-all game.

The Rebels used multiple plays at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter which was capped by a 19-yard touchdown pass. The conversion kick was good as Sullivan South took a 21-14 lead two minutes into the final quarter.

After making one first down on its next possession, the Grizzlies faced a fourth-and-14 at their own 37-yard line as the Grizzlies lined up for a punt. However, a bad snap from center prevented the kick and allowed the Rebels to take over at the Grainger 39-yard line.

Five plays later, Sullivan South scored on a 10-yard run and added the conversion kick for a 28-14 lead with 4:08 remaining in the game.

Lemka then took the kickoff back 19 yards to give the Grizzlies possession at their own 32-yard line. After gaining a first down on a combination of running and passes, the Grizzlies elected to give the ball to Bunch, who gained 37 yards as Grainger moved to the Sullivan South 20-yard line. However after a 2-yard loss on a run and two incomplete passes, a fourth-down pass was intercepted in the end zone as Sullivan South wrapped up a 28-14 victory.

Except for the fumbles, which were all recovered by the Grizzlies, Grainger continued to get strong performances on both sides of the ball. Jacob Bunch had another strong effort as he gained 170 yards on 33 carries for an average of more than 5 yards per carry. In addition, he scored a touchdown and added a two-point conversion. In his two games this season, Bunch has rushed tor 478 yards on 62 carries for an average of 7.7 yards per carry.

The loss dropped the Grizzly overall record to 1-1 and 0-1 in Region One play. The Grizzlies will host the Scott Highlanders, Friday night, who are currently 0-3 and suffered a 42-0 home defeat by Alcoa last Friday night. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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