RUTLEDGE, Tenn. — Grainger did not complete a single pass in Friday’s game against Scott, but didn’t need to. The Grizzlies rolled up 361 yards to bulldoze their way to their first-ever win over the Highlanders in a 38-21 decision.
Grainger attempted only one pass on a night when its rushing attack was in high gear. The Grizzlies averaged over 6.5 yards per carry as a team, converted seven of 11 third downs and made it difficult for Scott’s defense to get them off the field. Jacob Bunch was the star for the much-improved Grainger team, with 186 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries.
Scott head coach Keith Shannon did not mask his disappointment after the game.
“We’re disappointed in ourselves,” Shannon said. “Us coaches are disappointed. We did not do a good job this week. I did not, and I take responsibility for that. We did not play well tonight. We’re disappointed in ourselves and we’re disappointed for the people who drove here to Grainger to watch us play.”
The Highlanders’ offense had their best game of the season, both in terms of production in the running game — they rushed for 179 yards — and on the scoreboard, scoring three touchdowns.
But it was Grainger’s offense that stole the show. After the Highlanders went ahead 7-0 early, the Grizzlies scored 38 unanswered points before Scott scored on a 78-yard kick return on the game’s final play.
“This one is gone and there’s nothing we can do about it, but we can do something about the one that is staring us in the face next Friday night,” Shannon said, referring to his team’s trip to Gatlinburg this week.
Scott started the game with a seven-play, 85-yard drive that was capped by Grainger Smith’s five-yard touchdown run. The junior went all the way at quarterback, completing four of nine passes for 67 yards and rushing for 99 yards on 13 carries to lead the Highlander offense.
From that point, though, Grainger scored touchdowns on five of seven possessions, relentlessly driving the ball with its powerful ground attack.
“Any time your defensive backs are showing up on the stat sheet with tackles, you know it’s going to be a long night,” Shannon said. “And it was a long night for us in that regard. We tell our kids, it’s okay to get blocked; it’s not okay to stay blocked. Tonight we stayed blocked.”
Grainger answered Scott’s touchdown with a score of its own to take the lead. Bunch scored from 17 yards out, and the two-point conversion gave the Grizzlies an 8-7 lead that they would not relinquish.
The lead became 10-7 a couple of possessions later. Grainger killed a punt at the Highlanders’ two-yard-line, then got a stop in the end zone for a safety on the next play.
The short field from the resulting free kick allowed Grainger to quickly add to its lead. Opting to go for a first down on fourth-and-one at the Highlanders’ 40-yard-line, the Grizzlies turned to Bunch, who ripped off a 40-yard scoring run, making the lead 16-7.
Scott responded with a touchdown of its own to make things close again, with Smith directing a 10-play, 64- yard drive that ended with a score. The Highlanders three times converted third downs on the drive, the final of which was a six-yard score by Eli Hembree, cutting the deficit to 16-14 midway through the second quarter.
Grainger answered right back, though, going 68 yards in nine plays to score on a 14-yard run by Bunch, pushing the lead to 24-14 after the two-point conversion was successful.
That’s the way the first half would end. The Highlanders saw the second half begin with a momentum-killing blow, driving the length of the field in 14 plays before a fumble resulted in a turnover at Grainger’s seven-yard-line. The Highlanders converted a couple of third downs along the way, including a 19-yard scamper by Smith on third and 16 to keep the drive alive.
The Grizzlies were unable to turn the turnover into points, as the Highlanders turned in a stop and forced Grainger into a three-and-out. But the Highlanders also went three-and-out, and Grainger followed up with a 15-play, 65-yard drive that ended with yet another Bunch touchdown. The drive took a stunning amount of time off the clock. Grainger took possession midway through the third and did not score until midway through the fourth. That gave the Grizzlies a 32-14 lead that was going to prove to be too much to overcome.
“We came out and played inspired there at the beginning of the second half,” Shannon said. “But as the game went on, we wore down.”
After a Highlander three-and-out, Grainger again went on a time-consuming drive, scoring on a third-and-goal run by Reagan Wiser.
Isaac Morrow returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown, but it would prove to be too little, too late.
After the game, Shannon said the Highlanders’ fate still rests in their own hands.
“We’re hunting for success. We’re hunting for that formula that gets us a win,” Shannon said. “The kids are practicing well. They practice well this week and I fully expect they’ll practice well next week. We’ll rally the troops, we’ll circle the wagons, and we’ll try to get that win next week.
“We’ve got the ability. It’s in our hands,” Shannon added. “That’s what our work and our efforts are going to go towards, is to fix this situation.”