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RUTLEDGE – Grainger head football coach Chad Tate said before the season that playing in Region 1 4-A is the high school equivalent of playing in the SEC because it seems the defending champion is always on your schedule.

Using that analogy, LSU is on its way to Rutledge.

For the third year in a row, the Grizzlies will play the defending 4-A state champions as the Elizabethton Cyclones visit The Den Friday night. Elizabethton won last year’s title game after Greeneville had hoisted the golden trophy for the two seasons prior to that. Three straight state champions from the same region is certainly an impressive feat. Tate said that he and his team has nothing but the utmost respect for Elizabethton and look forward to clashing with the Cyclones this week. “It’s exciting because they are an outstanding football program and it’s fun to play in games like that. We look forward to having Elizabethton coming to play at Grainger High School and getting out there and seeing where we are at as a program. We won’t back down from any challenge so that’s nothing we worry about, we want to go out each week and get better and compete. We know we have the best 4-A high school football team in Tennessee coming to our place on Friday night.”

The Cyclones enter Friday’s game on an 18-game winning streak…but just barely. It took a blocked field goal by Parker Hughes with 53 seconds remaining for Elizabethton to escape Gray with a heart-stopping 23-21 win over Daniel Boone last week. “Daniel Boone is one of the best teams in the state, those guys can play,” Tate said after watching the game film on how the Cyclones survived against the Trail Blazers. “That was something I took away from watching the film of that game. Boone and Elizabethton are both great, great football teams and that was a great game. I didn’t see a whole lot of what Elizabethton was doing wrong, I saw two good football teams playing against each other.”

Hughes is one of the Cyclones’ best players as he caught two touchdowns in the win. Quarterback Bryson Rollins is a dual threat as he threw for three scores and also ran for 123 yards. Elizabethton will be the biggest challenge for the Grainger defense so far this season but Tate said he likes the improvement his team is making each week. “We had given up some points early on but overall, the defense has played well all year. We gave up a few big plays early in the season and I think a lot of that was not being able to have much of a preseason. We are getting better in the aspect of not missing tackles and not giving up big plays. Coach (Steve) Finchum gets us ready to play and I thought it was an outstanding effort by the players and coaches against Scott.”

The Grainger defense was stellar in a shutout win at Scott last week where they gave up only 105 total yards of offense to the Highlanders. Scott was 4-of-10 on third down conversions and was the victim of 10 tackles by Reggie McBee as the senior linebacker continues to punish opposing offenses.

Grainger’s offense bounced back after two rough weeks as Dawson Holt ran for 265 yards on 30 carries and scored two times. The Grizzlies were efficient moving the ball and picking up a big play when they needed one as they were 3-of-5 on fourth down tries. “The offense is still a work in progress even though we have a lot of guys back,” Tate said. “Our guys up front are getting better every week and coach (Randy) Holt and (Zach) Holbrook are doing a great job of having our guys come to work every day. Improvement comes with work and repetition and our guys are getting better and our offense will continue to get better as they get better.”

Kickoff between the Grizzlies and Cyclones is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday night in Rutledge.