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September 20, 2017

Grizzly Zac Courter carries the ball into Highlander traffic during Grainger’s victory against Scott County at home, Friday.

Photo by Robert Turner

Grizzlies take down Highlanders, 38-21

Elmer Smith
Grainger Today Correspondent

RUTLEDGE –In last Friday night’s action at the Grainger High School football field, the Grizzlies gained a measure of revenge against the visiting Scott Highlanders, who had defeated the Grizzlies over the past two years.

After winning the toss and receiving the opening kickoff, the Grizzlies were unable to move the chains. An excellent punt by Zac Courter, the first of many from him, gave the Highlanders the ball at their own 15-yard line. In a drive that took eight plays and just under three minutes, the Highlanders scored on a 5-yard run and added the point-after for a 7-0 lead.

Brandon Greenlee then returned the kickoff for 13 yards to give the Grizzlies possession at their own 48-yard line. A pair of runs gained 3 yards before a false start backed the Grizzlies up an additional 5 yards. Facing a third-and-twelve, Andrew Armstrong took it to the outside for 13 yards and a first down to put some spark into the Grainger offense. That was followed by gains of 14, 3 and 6 yards by Jacob Bunch before he took it the final 18 yards to the end zone for a touchdown and then added a two-point conversion run for an 8-7 Grizzly lead with 4:07 remaining in the first quarter.

“They did some things we didn’t expect,” said head coach Chad Tate of the slow start on the first offensive possession. “We had to make some adjustments. Once we did that, I don’t think we slowed down the rest of the night.”

That offensive success sparked the Grizzly defense, who used big tackles from Lawrence Ratliff and Chase Muncy to force a three-and-out. Grainger took over at their own 29-yard line. A big 25-yard gain by Reagan Wiser moved the ball into Scott territory. That was followed by a run of 19 yards by Armstrong. However, a holding call negated that gain as the Grizzly drive bogged down before a 42-yard punt by Courter rolled dead at the 2-yard line. On Scott’s first play of their possession, Bunch tackled the Scott runner in the end zone for a safety; adding another way to put points on the board. The Grizzlies took a 10-7 lead with 11:44 remaining in the half.

The Grizzlies returned the free kick after the safety to the Scott 49-yard line. Gains of 2 yards by Courter and Preston Owens and almost 6 yards by Bunch set up a fourth and about 2 inches for a first down for the Grizzlies. The ball was handed to Bunch, who then romped through the Scott defense for a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed, and the Grizzlies led 16-7 with 9:50 remaining in the half.

Although the Grizzlies got three tackles from Logan Moody, the Highlanders used a 32-yard pass to spark a nine-play drive that reached the end zone on a 5-yard run. The PAT was good as the Grizzly lead was reduced to 16-14 with 6:21 remaining in the half.

Grainger responded with a nine play, 68-yard drive that featured runs of 15, 13 and 7 yards by Bunch, runs of 5 and 4 yards by Courter and a 6-yard run by Mark Lemka to put the ball at the Scott 14-yard line. Bunch then used his strength and agility to reach the end zone. He converted the two-point conversion run for a 24-14 Grainger lead at the half.

After receiving the second-half kickoff, the Highlanders, aided by a face mask penalty, were able to take six and a half minutes off the clock with a 14 play, 63-yard drive that ended with a fumble recovery by Wiser, who joined Parker Owen, Muncy, Kannon Roberts, Jake Myers and Cody Staley in making the Highlanders earn every yard they gained.

After a three-and-out on the Grizzlies next possession, Courter’s 46-yard punt gave Scott the ball at their own 40-yard line. A holding penalty on first down put the Highlanders in a hole.

The Grizzlies defense, led by a hard shot from Owens, plus a tackle for no gain and a pass break up by Wiser, forced a punt which gave Grainger the ball at their own 35-yard line.

Four rushes by Bunch gained 16 yards as a scoreless third quarter came to a close with the Grainger 24-14 lead intact.

The Grizzlies then used almost half of the fourth quarter to complete the 15 play, 65-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard burst up the middle by Bunch. On the two-point conversion, Courter hit tight end Muncy in the end zone to push the Grizzly lead to 32-14.

After a three-and-out on the Highlanders next series, the Grizzly offense continued it dominance. A nine play, 72-yard drive that featured runs of 32 and 7 yards by Courter, an 11-yard run by Bunch and a 6-yard run by Armstrong put the ball at the 10-yard line. On a third-and-goal from the 11-yard line, Wiser would not be denied as he determinedly reached the end zone for the final Grainger score. The two-point attempt failed, and the score read 38-14 with 50 seconds remaining in the game.

In the ensuing kickoff, the Highlanders took it to the end zone and added the PAT. The Grizzlies took a 38-21 victory to improve their overall record to 2-1.

Although Bunch had another outstanding game
(27 carries for 201 yards, four touchdowns, a pair of two-point conversions and a safety), he was not alone in an impressive performance. He was joined by Courter, who averaged 42 yards on his punts and racked up 74 rushing yards even though he has been hobbled by an injury. The third big playmaker was Wiser, who had a touchdown and played a stellar game on the defensive side of the ball.

The punt game and special teams are big,” said Tate of Courter’s outstanding punting effort. We’ve spent a lot of time in that area, and Zac’s a great punter. It was another great performance by Bunch. He’s a rock. He takes care of the ball and always runs hard. He is a senior, a leader and a big playmaker.” Tate then closed his remarks by stating, “We had a good job by the assistant coaches getting us in the right sets and getting us where we needed to be. It was a good job by our players of executing what we wanted to do.”

The Grizzlies will travel to Elizabethton, Friday, to take on the Cyclones in a Region One game. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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