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RUTLEDGE – Life in the COVID-19 world is all about adaptation and making the best of a bad situation when it comes to athletics. The Grainger Grizzlies know how hard that can be and how quickly it can come.

The Grizzlies haven’t stepped foot on the field against another opponent since September 18 when they lost to top-ranked Elizabethton. They had their bye week on the 25th and were scheduled to return to action on Oct. 4 to take on Sullivan East in a major regional showdown. That game didn’t happen as the Grizzlies’ coaching staff was alerted the day before the game there had been positive tests for players in the Patriots program. The game will count as a COVID 19 1-0 win for the Grizzlies. A week later, Grainger found out their non-conference tilt with Chuckey-Doak was also not going to be played because of a positive test for the coronavirus. That means when the Grizzlies line up against Sullivan Central on Friday night, it will have been a month since live game action. The two lost games will go down as 1-0 COVID-19 victories and moves the Grizzlies to 4-3 overall, 1-2 in the region.

“We are excited to get to play and we want to play but you still have your fingers crossed that we will play this week because things can change at any minute,” Tate said of finally getting back out on the field after a four-week delay.

Tate said that the first two weeks were pretty normal with the exception of not being able to play the East game. The Chucky-Doak missed game made things a lot less regular. “We went into the bye week and had the normal bye week schedule and then went into game prep for East. We didn’t lose that game until late Thursday night so we had already got all the game prep in for that one. It was a like a normal week for us as far as preparation went but we just didn’t get to play on Friday. The last two weeks have been Sullivan Central prep and that gives us a lot of time to prepare for the next opponent but at the same time, with not playing, as a coach you have to worry about our players’ game shape and that type of thing.”

Friday’s game is a big matchup as both teams are still fighting for a playoff berth. In years past, a win over the Cougars was pretty much a given as the Central program struggled to compete in one of the state’s toughest regions. They have increased their win totals in each of the previous four seasons and enter Friday’s contest at 3-4 and 1-2 in the region. The Cougars started the season with wins over Sullivan North and Volunteer but hit a rough patch in the middle of the season as they played quality teams like Sullivan South, David Crockett and Greeneville and failed to score in any of those matchups. They picked up a 1-0 win over Sullivan East last week.

Coach Tate echoed how better the Cougars have gotten over the years. “Central is a much improved team. They have had some injuries and had guys out the last few weeks but when they are healthy, they are good. Their quarterback has been in that system for a few years now and you can tell he is comfortable with what he’s doing. They have a great group of wide receivers: 6’1, 6’1 and 6’3 and Central does a good job of getting the ball to those guys down the field. They are dangerous players all over the place with the way they throw the football and attack you down the field. They will be a tough matchup for anyone and we have to get pressure on the quarterback because even if you don’t get a sack, you have to get pressure on him and make him get the ball out of his hand. We can’t let him sit back and throw it all over the place.”

“Central’s coaching staff has worked with that team and they have gotten better every year. Some of the kids on that team have been playing since they were freshmen and they have a lot of experience. They were in a lot of games last year and played well early this year before they had some injuries,” Tate stated.

The Grizzlies have won all five games against Sullivan Central including last year’s 38-19 win in Blountville. This will be the final game between the two schools as next year Central merges with other schools in Sullivan County to create the new Westridge High School. Kickoff between the Grizzlies and Cougars is set for 7:30 p.m. at The Den on Friday.