Photo by Elmer Smith
Grainger Today Correspondent
RUTLEDGE – In one of the most impressive performances in recent local football history, the Grainger High School Grizzlies systematically dismantled the Patriots from Sullivan East. Although it was a 52-21 rout, it could have easily been much worse since two of the Patriots touchdowns were returns of Grainger fumbles, and a pair of Grizzly touchdowns were nullified by penalties. In addition, a Grainger touchdown was lost as a Patriot defender did not give up on the play and punched the ball out just inches before the Grainger runner crossed the goal line. The resulting touchback gave Sullivan East the ball at their own 20-yard line.
The dominance started on Grainger’s first possession. After Jake Myers returned the opening kickoff to the 34-yard line, the Patriots got their first taste of the athletic skills of Jacob Bunch, who rambled 16 yards on his first carry, 22 on his second touch and 11 on this third. Those three carries and an 8-yard gain by Andrew Armstrong put the ball at the 14-yard line, where Preston Owens displayed his speed in taking the ball 13 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed as Grainger led 6-0 with 9:34 remaining in the first quarter.
A three-and-out by the Patriots included a tackle by Owens for a 13-yard loss. A 13-yard punt gave the Grizzlies the ball at the Patriot 35-yard line. Carries of 9, 8, 16 and 2 yards for a touchdown by Bunch and a two-point conversion from the wildcat formation upped the Grainger lead to 14-0, with just over six minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The next East possession lasted three downs, with Lawrence Ratliff making two tackles before Reagan Wiser intercepted a third-down pass that gave Grainger the ball at the Patriot 29-yard line. On the third play of the possession, the Grizzlies put the ball on the ground, and the Patriots recovered the fumble and rambled 68 yards for a defensive score. The point-after kick was good, and the Grainger lead was 14-7 with 2:56 remaining in the first quarter. “We replaced 10-of-11 on defense this year, said head coach Chad Tate of his defense. “And I said we would get better every week and that’s been the case. The players out there are making plays and that’s great for a coach to see.”
After neither team could move the chains the remainder of the first quarter and the first possession of the second, the Grizzlies recovered a fumble at the East 45-yard line. A 24-yard pass from quarterback Zac Courter to Bunch was called back for the first of a number of costly penalties. Runs for 7 and 2 yards by Bunch and a 16-yard jaunt by Courter moved the ball to the 13-yard line. Bunch then took the ball the final 13 yards for a touchdown and added a two-point conversion for a 22-7 Grainger lead with 6:53 remaining in the half.
After the Patriots put the ball in play at their own 35-yard line, it didn’t take the Grizzly defense long to set up another score. After an incomplete pass, a tackle for a 10-yard loss by Mark Lemka and a minus yard tackle by Lemka. Logan Moody set up fourth down where a fumbled snap gave Grainger the ball at the East 15-yard line. One play later, Bunch took the ball the distance for a score. The two-point conversion pass from Courter to Lemka stretched the Grainger lead to 30-7, with just under seven minutes remaining in the half.
After the resulting kickoff, the Patriots put the ball in play at their own 36-yard line and gained two yards before another tackle for a loss, this time for seven yards, by Lemka who then joined with Tommy Martinez for another tackle for a loss which forced a punt.
After a personal foul penalty against the Grizzlies on the punt return backed the Grizzlies up to their own 27-yard line, Grainger used runs of 6 yards each by Owens and Bunch. That was followed by a 9-yard completion from Bunch to Wiser that was negated by a holding call against Grainger. However, Owens gained 10 yards on a run and moved the chains.
That was followed by a screen pass from Courter to Bunch for an apparent touchdown. However, a penalty for an ineligible receiver downfield was called against the Grizzlies. That didn’t stop Grainger as the Grizzlies would not be denied. Courter then connected with Owens for a 46-yard completion to the Patriot 13-yard line. The ball was moved half the distance to the goal line as East was flagged for a personal foul which placed the ball at the 7-yard line. Wiser then took the ball into the end zone. The Grainger lead stood at 36-7 at the half.
The Grainger defense continued its dominance as the second half opened with a three-and-out. However after taking possession of the ball, a Grizzly fumble was recovered and taken for 15 yards for a touchdown. The extra point kick cut the Grizzly lead to 36-14. After Andrew Armstrong recovered the Patriots onside kick, the Grizzlies began a flag-filled drive. With Bunch getting the majority of carries, it appeared that he had broken the 1,000 yard mark during the early part of the drive, only to have the play called back because of a holding penalty. However, as the Grizzlies overcame the penalties, Bunch accounted for 28 yards rushing to surpass the 1,000 yard mark. For the game, Bunch had 161 yards and now has 1,023 rushing yards on the season. Courter added 24 yards rushing and completed a 17-yard pass to Chase Muncy to put the ball at the 2-yard line. Brandon Greenlee, who had taken over for Bunch, took the ball the final 2 yards and added a two-point conversion for a 44-14 lead. “God gave me the ability to play football,” said Jacob Bunch on passing the 1,000 yard mark. “But I wouldn’t be able to do it without the five guys up front. All week we’ve wanted to win. Everybody practiced hard all week and it showed.”
Late in the quarter, the Patriots put together a drive that allowed the teams yardage gained to get into positive territory as a touchdown and extra point cut Grainger’s lead to 44-21. After Devon Kinsler recovered the onside kick, it took one play for Grainger to respond.
Owens showed his athletic ability by sprinting 49 yards for the score. Greenlee added a two-point conversion, as the score reached 52-21.
Although that was the final score, junior running back Brandon Greenlee gave the fans one last bit of excitement when he took the ball down the right sideline for an apparent 58-yard touchdown. However, just inches from the goal line, the ball was punched out and went through the end zone for a touchback. “Coach Finchum did a good job getting us ready,” said Tate of the Grizzlies outstanding defensive performance. “He had a good game play and our kids executed.” “He is an amazing player,” said Tate of Jacob Bunch going over a thousand yards for the season. “He wants the ball, and we make sure he gets it. He’s a great leader, a good student and a great person. He’s everything high school football is about. We’re blessed he’s on our team. He’s a great young man.”
With this conference victory, the Grizzlies have taken a major step in their quest to make the postseason playoffs. However, the continuation of that quest will have to wait as Grainger goes outside the region next Friday when they travel to Chuckey-Doak. That will be followed by region games at Sullivan Central and at Greeneville before returning home October 29 to end their season with longtime rival and region opponent, Union County. Victories in two of those games would propel the Grizzlies into the playoffs.