Photo by Robert Turner
Grainger Today Correspondent
RUTLEDGE – Last Friday night, the Grainger High School Grizzly football team took on the Falcons of Volunteer High School at the Grainger High School field. The Grizzlies won the toss and took possession of the ball at their own 47-yard line. After a procedure penalty and three running plays, Grainger head coach Chad Tate elected to roll the dice on a fourth-and-four at the Falcon 47-yard line. A 5-yard gain by Reagan Wiser moved the chains for a first down. After the Grizzlies lost a yard on first down and thew an incomplete pass, Wiser picked up 9 yards, and Jacob Bunch added four for a first down at the Falcon 30-yard line. From there, Zac Courter took it the distance for a Grainger touchdown. Bunch blasted through the goal line for a two-point conversion and an 8-0 Grainger lead with 8:50 remaining in the first quarter.
The Falcons put the ball in play at their own 39-yard line and moved the chains to midfield on an 11-yard run. After a tackle for a loss of 4 yards by sophomore Lawrence Ratliff, the Falcons were forced to punt.
The Grizzlies started their next drive at their own 22-yard line and gained 6 yards on three running plays. They were facing a fourth-and-four from their own 28-yard line when Courter went back into punt position. He got the kickoff, but a running-into-the-kicker penalty was called against Volunteer, which resulted in a first down at the 33-yard line. From there, the Grizzlies got a 47-yard run from Bunch and a 2-yard gain by Courter before Bunch took it the remaining 18 yards for a touchdown. Courter then took the ball into the end zone for a two-point conversion as Grainger took a 16-0 lead with 3:31 remaining in the first quarter.
“Volunteer took away the inside (game) early, and we had to go outside,” said coach Chad Tate. “It was a good job of coaches making adjustments and players making plays. We have guys that can run a little, and they got outside”.
After the Falcons moved the chains twice and moved the ball to the Grainger 45-yard line, the Grizzly defense stiffened and forced a punt by Volunteer on the first play of the second stanza. Mark Lemka’s 20-yard return of the punt gave Grainger possession at their own 37-yard line. A 12-yard run by Bunch, an 18-yard run by Courter and 25-yard scamper by Bunch resulted in first downs on three-consecutive plays and possession of the ball at the Volunteer 8-yard line. After a 6-yard gain by Courter and a false-start penalty against Grainger, Bunch powered his way into the end zone for a touchdown for six. The drive covered 63 yards in five plays and took only a minute and 46 seconds off the clock. Courter found Jake Myers in the end zone for the two-point conversion to up the lead to 24-0 with 7:48 remaining in the half.
Volunteer’s next possession resulted in a tackle for a 2-yard loss by Grainger’s Devon Kinsler, and big stops by Logan Moody and Lemka forced the Falcons to punt. For the first time in the game, the Grizzlies were unable to move the chains before a 45-yard punt by Courter gave Volunteer the ball at their own 26-yard line. In their best offensive effort of the half, the Falcons ground out a first down and then moved to the Grainger 21 on a 35-yard run. That was as close as they would get as Ratliff recorded his second tackle for a loss, this time for 12 yards, before Preston Owens picked off a pass at the Grainger 17-yard line and sprinted downfield for an apparent touchdown. However, a defensive hold was called on Grainger which negated the touchdown. Another tackle for a loss of 6 yards by Kinsler and Kannon Roberts ended the threat with Grainger taking possession at their own 31-yard line. Twelve seconds later, the Grizzlies added a touchdown on a 69-yard run by Bunch. Courter then connected with Owens for a two-point conversion and a 32-0 lead at the half. For the first half, the one-two punch of Bunch (121 yards) and Courter (114 yards) overwhelmed the outmatched Falcons.
After taking the second-half kickoff and gaining a first down on their first play, the Falcons were stopped for no gain by Roberts, before three incomplete passes turned the ball over to the Grizzlies at their own 32-yard line. On the third play of the possession, Courter hit Bunch for a 68-yard pass resulting in a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed as the Grainger lead reached 38-0 and resulted in the mercy rule with a continuously running clock.
On their next possession, the Falcons had their best drive of the night when they mounted a 57-yard drive that ended at the Grizzly 25-yard line. In that drive, the defense got a sack for a 10-yard loss from Andrew Armstrong plus strong play in the defensive backfield by Brandon Greenlee. After the ball was turned over on downs, Coach Tate rewarded his hardworking younger players with time on the field.
After a three-and-out and a 47-yard punt by Courter, the Grizzlies got a strong-defensive effort as Ben Pratt, Tristan Warfield, Austin Cate, Mike Cardoza, Reggie McBee and Chance Tate had their names called for defensive stops.
After a short punt, the Grizzlies took possession at their own 44-yard line. After runs of 9 and 10 yards by Warfield and a 2-yard gain by Austin Farrow, Ben Pratt got to the outside and took the ball down the right sideline for a 36-yard touchdown. Shortly afterwards, Pratt plunged into the end zone for a two-point conversion and a 46-0 Grainger victory.
“Clay Shipman is an all-conference player who was out (ruptured appendix),” said Tate. “The offensive line stepped up big time. Ryan McAnally, a sophomore, stepped up as did Rylan Gray, another sophomore. Peyton Blake, also a sophomore, and Cody Staley and Devon Kinsler, who are converted running backs, all came through. That was our offensive line, three sophomores and two converted running backs. I’m really proud of those guys. The defense played well too. A shutout is hard to do so congratulations to Coach Finchum and the defensive players.”
The duo of Jacob Bunch (127 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, 68 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown along with a pair of two-point conversions) and Zac Courter (129 yards rushing, one rushing touchdown, 68 passing yards and a touchdown, one two-point conversion and a 47-yard punting average) led the Grainger assault. “They (Volunteer) outplayed us last year,” said Courter, “But this week in practice, we turned up the intensity and came out with fire in our gut. We’re trying to make this football team better. The coaches care so much about us and put us in a position to win. And I want to dedicate this win to our starting right guard (Clay Shipman) who was unable to play.”
With the victory, the Grizzlies improved their record to 3-2 over and 0-2 in Region One. The Grizzlies will return to region play Friday, with a homecoming game against Sullivan East, who has a 3-2 overall record and a 1-1 record in region play. This is a must-win game for the Grizzlies if they are to have a chance to advance to the post-season playoffs. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m.