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RUTLEDGE – Grainger wraps up the regular season this Friday night with a chance to keep playing into the post-season with a win over a long-time rival.

The Grizzlies travel to Maynardville to take on Union County and with a win over the Patriots, will qualify for the TSSAA 4A playoffs which begin next Friday. The matchup will present a vast contrast between a team with post-season aspirations and one still looking for their first win of the season. The 2020 campaign has a been a difficult one for Union County as they have yet to notch a victory and have unfortunately lost four games due to COVID-19. They are coming off a difficult game at Sullivan Central last week where the Cougars scored 11 touchdowns in the first half and won 76-6 in the final game for Central before they merge with Sullivan South and Sullivan North to form the new West Ridge High School in 2021.

Despite the Patriots’ record, Grainger head coach Chad Tate said his team can’t take anything for granted and will get a tough game from a heated rival. “They will play their best game of the year against us, there is no doubt in my mind about that. They are a well-coached football team and even though they have had their struggles this year, I believe they will be ready to play us. Union County will be prepared so we have to be ready to play a solid football game.”

Last’s year battle in Rutledge was a war as the Grizzlies held on to win 24-20. Grainger led 24-6 before the Patriots scored twice in the final 3:34 to make things interesting. The game was a defensive battle as the Grizzlies had 218 yards of total offense to 205 for Union County. Dawson Holt scored all three of Grainger’s touchdowns and Reggie McBee converted all three two-point attempts. The final score is usually close between the two teams and Tate said that will probably be the case again this Friday. “I think with such a big rivalry game, you get the best out of both teams. Your kids are excited to play on both sides and it always comes down to the little things like who wins the turnover battle, tackling, and other little things that wins games.”

An added dimension of the game may be the weather. The remnants of Hurricane Zeta are expected to roll through East Tennessee Thursday into Friday which could bring dreary conditions at game time. One positive is the Patriots are playing on artificial turf this year so mud shouldn’t be a problem but rain could make ball control tricky. “I haven’t thought about it a lot, but it could be a factor,” Tate said of the potential of a rainy night. “The weather is always big in football because in September, it’s the heat and then rain can always affect things, especially in the Fall when you get that a lot more. We have to be prepared and if weather is a factor, taking care of the football will be even bigger.”

Friday’s game will be the final one in a regular season that has presented more changes that any in history. Tate said he is glad his team has found success in the midst of many struggles. “My whole thought process is that hopefully we get to play each week, that’s how this whole year has turned for me. We are always hopeful we get to play and thankful when you do get to play. We want to finish this thing out for our seniors and all of our players.”

The Grizzlies hope to get into the post-season once again and Tate said that is a goal for not only this year’s squad but every season. “It’s been great for our kids and our coaches to put us in this position. There are a lot of scenarios out there how we can get in but we know if we win, we are in and we don’t want to back into anything. We want to go out there and control our destiny. Winning on Friday on the road against a good rival is a tough task but that is the goal. The playoffs are always a goal here at Grainger and hopefully we can do that with a win this Friday.”

Kickoff is set for 7:30 in Maynardville.