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RUTLEDGE – After a much-needed break during the bye week last week, the Grainger Grizzlies open the second half of the season this Friday as they take on Sullivan East in a key regional match-up.

Grizzlies head coach Chad Tate said the one-week break in action was just what his team needed in order to prepare for the stretch run. “It was great for us as it gave us a chance to get some guys healthy and get some guys back out on the field. A bye week gives you the opportunity to work on fundamentals and to work on those little things that win football games. It gave us a chance to look at those little things that may slide during a normal week. I could tell in practice this week they had a little more energy and the break was good for our legs as we looked so much more fresh”.

Grainger is still in good position to play their way into the post-season and that starts with this week against the Patriots. East is currently 2-3 on the season with wins over Johnson County and Union County but are coming off a non-conference loss to Unicoi County last Friday. Tate said the Patriots are much improved compared to the back-to-back 1-9 seasons they have had over the past two years. “East is very aggressive and they put a lot of stress on you, especially on offense. They will defend the whole field which will spread you out a lot more. On defense, they are going to bring a lot of pressure so we have to be ready for that. Our offensive line has to know their responsibilities.”

Tate said the second half of the season will continue to present many challenges but he believes his team is up to those challenges. “The biggest thing is the uncertainty. With the challenges of not knowing if you are going to be able to play every week (because of COVID-19), that is a challenge. But our guys have done a good job with all of that. It is just good to see our team come to work every day and do what they have to do to prepare to win football games. Each day in practice we look at is as we have that day and we have to make the most of it.”

“We have to make sure we keep guys on the field down the stretch,” Tate said when asked about the biggest key to success for the Grizzlies in the last five games of the regular season. “Also, the development of our offensive line is big. Those guys have just gotten better and better with each passing week and I am confident they will continue to do that. We have to continue to work on the little things like taking care of the football, cutting down on the turnovers and not allowing the football to be thrown over our heads. You might not be able to completely eliminate the big plays by you can try to cut down on them so that is something we will continue to work on. When you look at the game statistically, turnovers and big plays are what stick out the most so that is going to be an area of emphasis for us as we go forward. Eliminating those things is what wins football games”.

Grainger leads the overall series with the Patriots 3-2. The Grizzlies won last year’s contest 38-7 at home and have won the last three games in a row. Kickoff in Blountville is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday.