Photo by Robert Turner
Grainger Today Correspondent
RUTLEDGE – The Grainger High School football team pushed its overall record to 7-3 Friday, setting a school record for wins in a season. The win also moved the Grizzlies into the first round of the postseason playoffs.
The Grizzlies played their most balanced football game of the year as the Grizzlies celebrated senior night for football players, band members and cheerleaders with a 52-0 thrashing of the Patriots from Union County. After Union County won the opening toss and deferred its option to the second half, the Grizzlies, who put the ball in play at their own 44-yard line, gave the Patriots a steady dose of Jacob Bunch. Bunch, who carried the ball on the first seven snaps, broke one run for 35 yards and passed the 1,500-yard mark in rushing yards before taking the ball the final 2 yards for a touchdown. He followed that by ramming his way into the end zone for a two-point conversion and an 8-0 Grainger lead with 8:05 remaining in the opening quarter.
In their first possession, the Patriots took almost seven minutes off the clock. They held the ball for 13 plays and moved the chains three times even though the Grizzlies got strong defensive efforts from Cody Staley and Lawrence Ratliff. The Grizzly defense was called for both an offside penalty and a pass interference penalty which helped keep the Patriot offense on the field.
After that Patriot drive ended at the Grainger 24-yard line, the Grizzlies got 9 yards on first down from quarterback Zac Courter, a 22-yard run from Bunch and a 5-yard gain from Courter, and the first quarter ended with the Grizzlies holding an 8-0 lead. On the first play of the second quarter, Bunch found Reagan Wiser streaking down the right sideline for a 60-yard touchdown pass. The extra-point effort failed as Grainger’s lead stood at 14-0 eight seconds into the second quarter.
On its next possession, the Patriots moved the chains once before the Grizzly defense, led by Jake Myers, Parker Owen, Devon Kinsler and Preston Owens, forced a fourth-and-nine at the Union County 49-yard line. Although the Patriots were in kick formation, the punter elected to run and was stopped for an 11-yard loss by Chase Muncy. The play gave the Grizzlies possession of the ball at the Union County 38-yard line. Twelve seconds later, Wiser was in the end zone for a touchdown. A two-point conversion pass from Courter to Mark Lemka pushed the Grizzly lead to 22-0 with 8:41 remaining in the first half.
After Ratliff and Owen stifled the Patriots on first and second down, and an incomplete pass, the Patriots punted the ball to give Grainger possession at its own 36-yard line. It appeared that the Grizzlies would quickly score again as Courter hit Tyler Hodge for a 56-yard gain, but the ball was fumbled and the Patriots recovered on their own 8-yard line.
On Union County’s next possession, Tommy Martinez dominated on defense and was joined by Staley, Brandon Greenlee and Preston Owens. The Grizzlies forced a punt which gave Grainger possession at the Union 40-yard line. Once again, the Grainger offense struck quickly as Courter gained 7 yards on first down. That was followed by a 7-yard pass to Wiser and a 4-yard gain by Bunch before Owens took the ball the final 22 yards on a counter play for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed. The Grizzlies led 28-0 with two minutes remaining in the first half.
On Union County’s first play of the subsequent possession, Martinez showed his speed. He made a play that resulted in a 5-yard loss before two incomplete passes and a punt gave the Grizzlies the ball at the Union 40-yard line with 40 seconds remaining in the half. A first-down pass from Courter to Owens was followed by a 35-yard strike to Bunch for a 34-0 lead with 14 seconds remaining in the half. That was followed by an all-important point after in which lineman Clayton Shipman bulled his way into the end zone to up the lead to 36-0, which assured the mercy rule and a running clock in the second half.
After a three-and-out by Union County opened the second half, it appeared that Bunch had racked up a 62-yard touchdown run, but a penalty cut the gain to 34 yards. A 13-yard run by Courter was followed by a 14-yard burst from Bunch for a touchdown. That was followed by a two-point conversion run by Staley for a 44-0 Grainger lead.
Martinez continued his dominant defensive performance with help from Kannon Roberts and Ryan McAnally. The Grainger defense stopped the Patriots and took possession at the Union County 23-yard line. A 20-yard pass from Courter to Muncy gave the Grizzlies a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line. The third quarter ended after two plays lost 7 yards for the Grizzlies.
On third down, Courter hit Andrew Armstrong for 7-yard pass for a fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line. Bunch then took it the final 3 yards for the score. Lineman Devon Kinsler powered his way into the end zone for the two-point conversion that capped the 52-0 Grainger victory.
“They (the linemen) have done a good job for us, and we threw them a bone,” said head coach Chad Tate. “They all wanted to run the ball, so we gave our senior linemen a carry.”
With Mike Cardoza leading the way with three tackles, the Grainger reserves kept the Patriot varsity off the scoreboard to preserve the shutout as the Grizzlies’ 10 seniors, Zac Courter, Marcos Bueno, Jacob Bunch, Reagan Wiser, Andrew Armstrong, Chase Muncy, Cody Staley, Clay Shipman, Tyler Clark and Devon Kinsler, played for their last time before the home crowd.
“Union County took some of our stuff away,” said Tate of the Grizzly passing game. “When they do that, you have to be able to do other things, and we were able to do that tonight. The momentum we’ve gained these last few years has given the team confidence. It’s an awesome feeling to be in the playoffs for the second straight year. It’s where every team wants to be when you start the season. Anderson County is a great team, and we will give them our best shot. We will have to play our best game of the season. We’re excited for the opportunity.”
The Grizzlies will travel to Anderson County next Friday. The Mavericks, the number three team in the state in the 4-A classification, take a perfect 10-0 record into the game. Game time is 7 p.m.