Grainger opens season Friday vs. Union County
RUTLEDGE — Coach Chad Tate and his Grainger Grizzlies open the 2014 season with a lot of new faces but with a high level of excitement.
The Grizzlies will host Union County in the season opener Friday night at Grizzlies Stadium at 7:30 p.m., and Tate said his team is ready to hit someone else after a long preseason.
“It will be a tough one for us as Union County is going to bring a good football team in here. But we are excited and ready to play football. It’s been a long preseason and the kids have worked really hard. We are ready to get this season going,” Tate said.
The Grizzlies have had a lot of success lately against the Patriots. For three straight seasons, Grainger never failed to score at least 38 points against Union County. The Patriots improved in the level of competitiveness throughout the 2013 season and that started in the season opener against the Grizzlies. Grainger won last year’s contest 21-12 in Maynardville.
One of the biggest questions going into fall practice was who was going to be the starting quarterback after the graduation of three-year starter Lance Morton last year. Tate said he has settled on a starter but that does not mean fans won’t see other players taking snaps.
“We are going to go with Dane Farrow as our starter here in week zero,” Tate said. “Dane did a great job and has improved quite a bit since last season.”
“You will probably see Bryce McBee some but Dane will be the starter. Jay Phillips, another sophomore, is coming on and we will probably play more than one guy at that position.”
The Grizzlies will take to the field with a very young team but Tate said he likes where his team is as they start the season against Union County.
“They look like young guys,” Tate joked when asked how his young players look at the beginning of the season. “They have gotten better and we have had to throw them to the fire. We are going to play about 12 sophomores and two freshmen on Friday night so that is a lot of young kids. But that is where we are at and what we have to do.
“We are going to get those young guys out there and let them run around and hopefully they will make some plays for us. They may make some mistakes but they are also going to make plays. We are excited about that young group but they have a long way to go fundamentally to be where we need to be.”
North Laurel (Ky.) at Claiborne
When the North Laurel Jaguars invade New Tazewell Friday night for the season opening game against the Claiborne Bulldogs, they will do so with a very young and very thin roster.
Last year, the Jaguars rolled to a home win over the Bulldogs, thanks in part to the play of Michael Nelson and Gabe Blair, who were a menace to opponents all season long.
That duo has now graduated, as has nearly all of the production from North Laurel’s 8-3 team from last year. They will now rely heavily on the running of Jake McFadden to carry them this season.
On the other side, Claiborne coach Barry Liles returns a lot of talent from last season’s team, but the depth is a concern.
One thing that isn’t a concern for the veteran coach as they open the season is their quarterback, Dalton Lee. The senior was Mr. Everything for the Bulldogs a season ago, single-handedly guiding Claiborne past several opponents by scoring nearly 30 touchdowns and tossing for several more in a campaign that earned him the Citizen Tribune’s All-Lakeway Area Offensive Player of the Year award.
Last year was the first meeting between the two schools, with the Jaguars defending their home turf in London in a 48-20 rout. Kickoff Friday from New Tazewell is set for 7:30 p.m.
Sullivan South at Cherokee
The Cherokee Chiefs and veteran coach Mike Sivert have their work cut out for them in their season opening game Friday night when they host the very dangerous Sullivan South Rebels and their strong backfield duo of senior quarterback Dylan Wieger and senior tailback Blake Christian.
Last year, Wieger passed for more than 140 yards and Christian ran for more than 200 and had more than 100 return yards against Cherokee in the season opener, a 38-35 last minute win for the Rebels.
Wieger is a dual threat QB, and he is just as strong running the ball as he is throwing it. He had several games last season with more than 100 yards rushing and passing, and he has enough targets on the outside to do the same this year.
For the Chiefs, they will be breaking in an almost entirely new offensive line and backfield, with Teagan Trent and Tanner Mayes are the only returnees on offense and defense with a load of experience.
Trent will be the feature back in the offense which lost both Ryan Gibson and Evan McCracken, as they are sitting out the season with possible Division I scholarships coming in other sports.
Mayes will be a wide receiver and defensive back this season for Sivert’s club.
Sullivan South has won the last two meetings with the Chiefs, including last year’s 38-35 barn-burner at Death Valley in Colonial Heights. Kickoff Friday in Rogersville is set for 7:30 p.m.
Gatlinburg-Pittman at Cocke County
The second season of the Caleb Slover era begins Friday night with the Big Red renewing their rivalry with Gatlinburg-Pittman and long-time head coach Benny Hammonds.
In last season’s matchup between the two teams, the Highlanders rolled to a 35-0 victory behind the running of Michael Muszik. The then junior galloped for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, and he returns this season to carry the load in the backfield yet again.
At quarterback, G-P is expected to have Ryan Garza under center for the first snap of the season. The senior finally gets his turn calling the plays, and he will also see time as a linebacker for Hammonds and the Highlanders.
Cocke County has a similar situation, as Jordon Carpenter took over at QB late last season and returns as the starter this season. He has experience at linebacker as well and could see double duty as the season progresses.
The Highlanders have defeated the Big Red in three straight seasons, including the shutout victory last year in Gatlinburg. Kickoff from Larry Williams Stadium in Newport Friday night is slated for 7:30 p.m.
Pigeon Forge at Cosby
Last year’s season opener is one the Cosby Eagles would just as soon forget, as they fell flat against the Pigeon Forge Tigers in a 55-0 rout on the road.
Friday night, they will welcome the Tigers and coach Scott Meadows, a former Jefferson County head coach, to Cosby for the 2014 lid lifter, and they will look to end the dominance of their Sevier County opponent in the recent history of their rivalry.
Pigeon Forge has won five straight and eight of the last nine games against Cosby, including the win last year. The Tigers have outscored the Eagles 163-28 in their last three meetings.
Cosby’s last win against Pigeon Forge came back in 2008 when they held on for a 13-7 home win on their way to an 8-3 campaign.
The Eagles have won just three of their last 17 games, but coach Kevin Hall has reason for optimism going into this season. The schedule won’t be easy to navigate for Cosby however, as they travel to West Greene and Cloudland in the next two weeks before hosting Chuckey-Doak in the fourth game. The remainder of the schedule includes five Region 1-A games and a trip to The King’s Academy to face one of the best running backs in East Tennessee in Jason Maduafokwa.
Kickoff Friday in Cosby is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Hancock County at Harriman
The Hancock County Indians enter the 2014 season having lost 13 straight games and 24 of their last 26 games going back to the early stages of the 2012 campaign, and this year’s slate seems just as daunting on paper.
After the season opening road game this Friday against 2013 TSSAA playoff participant Harriman, the Indians will play away from the friendly confines of their home field seven times this year. In all, coach Phil Blevins and his team will make trips to Harriman, The King’s Academy, North Greene, Cosby, Unaka, Tri-Cities Christian and South Greene this season.
Of their three home games, two are against the top two teams in Region 1-A as Hampton and Cloudland both come to Sneedville this year. The other home game will be against what appears to be a much improved Midway squad.
As for Friday night’s game, the Indians will be making a return trip to Roane County to take on a Harriman squad that snuck into the playoffs a year ago and finished 4-7.
The Blue Devils won last year’s meeting 34-11 in what was the first-ever meeting on the gridiron between the two programs. Kickoff Friday in Harriman is set for 7:30 p.m.
-By Marlin Curnutt, Tribune Correspondent