Photo by Elmer Smith
Grainger Today Correspondent
CLINTON – Last Friday night, the Grainger High School Grizzly football team traveled to Anderson County for a first-round game in the state 4-A playoffs. The Mavericks, who were undefeated in Region 2 4-A play, sported a strong offense centered on their quarterback, running back and wide receivers. It also sported a public address announcer who sounded much like a carnival barker with his references to the football field as the bull ring and with frequent referrals to Anderson County being “the greatest show on turf.”
Although Anderson County was rated as the number two ranked team in Tennessee in the 4-A classification, that was not a new experience for the Grizzlies, who had already played number one Greeneville and current number four Elizabethton.
After winning the toss and electing to receive the ball, the Grizzlies did what they have done most of the time this season by giving the Mavericks a steady dose of Jacob Bunch. After moving the chains once on carries of 9 and 1 yards, and a 4-yard gain on the next carry, he exploded for a 47-yard run to the Anderson 13-yard line. Preston Owens took the ball on the next play to the left side of the field and sprinted into the end zone for a touchdown. Bunch added two points on the conversion attempt as the Grizzlies took an 8-0 lead in just under two and a half minutes into the game.
On the Anderson’s first possession, the Mavericks gained one first down before the Grainger defense allowed only 4 yards on the next play. Grainger’s next possession was a three-and-out that ended with a 53-yard punt by Zac Courter that gave possession to Anderson at their own 40-yard line. A 20-yard run and a 40-yard pass put the ball in the end zone before the point after kick cut the Grainger lead to 8-7 with five and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter.
After another three-and-out by the Grizzlies, the Mavericks put together a two-play drive that overcame a holding penalty and covered 69 yards and a touchdown. The extra-point kick was good, and Anderson County took a 14-8 lead.
After its outstanding drive to open the game, the Grizzlies once again were unable to move the ball. A Grainger fourth-down punt attempt was blocked out of the end zone for a safety and a 16-8 lead for the Mavericks. Following the free kick by the Grizzlies, Anderson quickly moved the ball to the Grainger 2-yard line as the first quarter ended with the Mavericks holding the 16-8 lead. However, on the first play of the second quarter, Anderson added a touchdown and an extra-point kick to stretch its lead to 23-8 seven seconds into the second quarter.
The Grizzly running attack again sputtered before a 43-yard punt by Courter gave Anderson the ball at their own 33-yard line. Three plays moved the ball to the Grainger 44-yard line before the Maverick’s quarterback broke containment on a passing play and rambled in for the touchdown. The extra-point kick was good as the Anderson lead stood at 30-8.
On Granger’s next possession, the Mavericks continued to put eight men in the box to stop the Grainger running attack. A first-down pass from Bunch to Reagan Wiser move the chains before Bunch broke free for a 24-yard gain. Facing a third-and-six at the Anderson 41-yard line, Courter put the ball up for Wiser, who took the ball away from the defender for a first down at the Anderson 31-yard line. Courter then connected with Owens for a touchdown, and the two-point run by Courter cut the Anderson lead to 30-16.
Another quick scoring drive by the Mavericks added another touchdown to the scoreboard. On the next possession for Grainger, Bunch broke a 90-yard run for a touchdown and then added a two-point conversion.
Anderson’s lead stood at 37-24 with 4:25 remaining in the half. However, the high-scoring shootout continued as Anderson scored on a 35-yard touchdown run 21 seconds later for a 45-24 lead.
After a three-and-out for Grainger, the Grizzly defense made a stop before a Maverick punt gave the Grizzlies the ball at their own 44-yard line. After a sack on the first play, Courter gained 25 yards on a running play.
After making good use of their timeouts, the Grizzlies added eight more points on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Courter to Owens, and the explosive first half ended with Anderson County holding a 44-32 lead.
After Anderson scored on its first possession of the second half, Mark Lemka returned the ensuing kick to the Grainger 46-yard line. Following the Grizzlies gain of 6 yards on the next three plays, coach Chad Tate elected to go for a first down on a fourth-and-four play. Bunch got the call and delivered the 4 yards that kept the drive going. From there, the Grizzlies completed a 12-play drive for a touchdown. During that drive, the Grainger lost 10 yards on a fumble before Courter rambled 26 yards to the Anderson 12-yard line. After gaining 2 yards on the next two plays, Bunch found the end zone for a touchdown which was followed by a two-point run by Courter that cut the Maverick lead to 51-40.
Anderson County got the ball on their own 35-yard line after the Grainger kick went out of bounds. A Maverick pass was picked off by Wiser, who returned the ball 15 yards to the Grainger 49-yard line. After a 12-yard run by Bunch had moved the chains once, Grainger was called for an illegal pass receiver down field. This thwarted the opportunity for the Grizzlies to cut the Anderson lead to three points at the end of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Anderson added two additional touchdowns to post a 65-40 lead and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
Jacob Bunch led the Grizzly offense with 222 yards and totaled more than 1,700 yards of rushing offense for the season.
Although the loss ended Grainger’s season, the Grizzlies ended with a 7-4 record that was an outstanding accomplishment, especially for the senior players who have been a part of building the Grainger program.
“I’m proud of the team and their fight,” said Tate. “Obviously it hurts right now. We’re proud of where we’ve brought this program to at this point. We’re on the cusp of moving to the next level. It was a wild game, and you have to tip your hat to Anderson County and their quarterback who is a special player.”