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RUTLEDGE – Grainger may have a “Forrest Gump box of chocolates philosophy” as they prepare to take on Union County because they really don’t know that they are going to get.

Preparation for Friday’s game against the Patriots has been a bit more difficult for the Grizzlies as Union County has been all over the place in terms of their game performance and game plan through the first five weeks of the season. They had a hard-fought win over West Greene in the opener, won easily over Claiborne, got blown out by Gatlinburg-Pittman and lost two games to the coronavirus. Determine whether they are good, bad or somewhere in between has made scouting tough for head coach Michael Manis and his staff.

“In watching the film on them, the big thing for us is they changed offenses,” Manis said of the scouting report on the Patriots. “They changed from a single-wing they have run the past couple of years to a double-wing so we have been preparing for both but more for the double wing that has had a little more success. Union County has a couple of athletic young guys and one really athletic senior so they are definitely not the same team they were last year. It doesn’t matter what the score this year have been, they have some kids who can make plays.”

“Defensively, we need to try to stop their perimeter run game,” Manis continued. “I think we match up with them pretty well on defense. Offensively, we want to keep doing what we have been doing. Hopefully the pass game will be like the previous week (against Chuckey-Doak) and we want to continue with that to help the run game. We are preparing for two different defenses as well.”

Grainger lost a tough one to third-ranked Elizabethton last week and got banged up in the process. Several Grizzlies left the game against the Cyclones with injuries but the good news is all but one will be back in action this week against Union County. “We had a lot of people who went to get checked out on Monday morning and we got great results from a lot of guys. We have everyone back but one and also got a guy back who was injured in week one,” Manis said of his team’s injury report.

While winning a football game isn’t easy no matter who the opponent is, the second half of the Grizzlies schedule is much more manageable that the first half was. The Grizzlies take on Union County to begin the second slate of games which will also include contests against Volunteer, Northview Academy, Seymour and Claiborne. The combined record of those teams are 8-14 which is in contrast to the overall record of 13-10 for the first five opponents which include state powers Greeneville and Elizabethton.

“We take one game at a time and teach a one play at a time mentality,” Manis said. “But it is a factor to go ahead and get Greeneville and Elizabethton out the way early and then you can focus in on two big regional games left on the schedule. We have to play very well to beat Volunteer and Seymour. We focus on week to week and just see where the chips falls and where things end up.”

Jacob Hill has been a pleasant surprise on offense for Grainger through the first five games as he leads the team in receiving yards with 186 and two touchdowns. Senior Ty Overbay continues to be one of the Grizzlies most consistent players as he has amassed yards by rushing, receiving, on kick returns, punt returns and interception returns. On defense, Tucker Gillette continues his dominating ways as he leads the team with 36.5 tackles, 29 of which are solo.

Grainger leads the series 10-3 and won last year’s contest 50-0 in Maynardville. Kickoff between the Grizzlies and Patriots is set for 7:30 at The Den.