RUTLEDGE — Grainger will make their sixth appearance in the TSSAA playoffs as the post-season begins this week and for the Grizzlies, 2019 is almost an exact repeat of what happened in 2017.
Grainger went into the final regular season game needing a win against Union County to secure their place in the second season two years ago. They blasted the Patriots 52-0 to earn the final spot out of their region and faced Anderson County in the first round of the playoffs. Last week, Grainger was in the same boat again as they had to beat Union County to punch their ticket to the post season. They were successful, winning 24-20 at The Den. The result of that game is yet another trip to Clinton to take on Anderson County. Grizzlies head coach Chad Tate said it’s déjà vu all over again. “It’s kind of the same scenario. We won a big game against Union County last week and I am proud of the guys for that, it’s always good to win a big rivalry game. The reward for doing that was to get into the playoffs so I am proud of our team, proud of our coaches as they have done an outstanding job from the beginning of the year all the way to this point.”
If this week’s game is anything like the one two years ago, fans should buckle their seat belts. The two teams were locked in a shootout as they combined for 995 yards of total offense.
Grainger was able to stay in striking distance of the Mavs as they were down only a touchdown late in the third quarter. Anderson County was able to score two insurance touchdowns in the fourth to pull away for a wild, hard-fought 65-40 win, a final score that didn’t reflect just how close the game was. Former Grizzlies’ standout Jacob Bunch carried the ball 35 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns and Anderson County was paced by Mason Phillips who rushed for 253 yards and found the end zone five times. Stanton Martin, who was a finalist for Mr. Football in 4-A in 2017, was contained by the Grainger defense as they held him to only 160 total yards.
Anderson County enters this year’s contest 9-1 and ranked third in the state. Their only loss was in week two when they dropped a 48-36 decision on the road at Knox Powell, who is among the best teams in Tennessee at any level. Tate said his team will be prepared for another tough game against the Mavericks.
“We are happy to keep playing and we know the challenge that is ahead of us with Anderson County. They are one of the best teams in the state and we know the challenge will be to play one of our best games of the season to have an opportunity to win. Coach (defensive coordinator Steve) Finchum has a great plan in place and our guys are working hard in practice. We are excited about still being able to play.”
Junior quarterback Stone Hatmaker anchors the Mavs’ offense and he has a stable of talented running backs which include TJ Holmes and Josh Miller. “Anderson County has a lot of excellent players and they are well coached,” Tate said. “I don’t see many weaknesses on either side of the ball and they are great in special teams as they have a great kicker. When you look at them as a total team, there just aren’t many weaknesses there. Anderson County can score a lot of points and are a big play team that can score quickly.”
The Grizzlies will rely on their ground-and-pound offense which is led by quarterback Dawson Holt. He has rushed for 1,564 yards and scored 18 touchdowns so far this season as well as thrown for three scores. Reggie McBee leads the Grainger defense with 47 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. Tate said his team will need to be firing on all cylinders when they take on the Mavs Friday night. “They are probably a little more run-heavy this year than a couple of year ago when we played them. It will be a big challenge for us but coach Finchum will have our guys ready to go on defense. They remind me a lot of us on offense in the way they try to play with speed and movement. We will have to be good up front and communicating up front because they will put us into some situations we haven’t seen this year.”
While Grainger has made the playoffs six times since 2008, including three of the last four years, they are still looking for their first post-season win. In 2016, the Grizzlies downed Cherokee 46-12 in the last game of the regular season and traveled to take on eventual state runners-up Knox Central. The Grizzlies took on Greeneville in 2013, Livingston Academy in 2012 and Austin-East in 2008. The winner of Friday’s game will face the winner of the Greeneville-Chattanooga Howard game in round two.