Grainger at Elizabethton — Friday, 7:30 p.m. — Citizens Bank Stadium

RUTLEDGE — Grainger’s defense continues its week-to-week improvement, and that’s a good thing since the Grizzlies will face their biggest challenge of the year on Friday night.

The Grizzlies make the trip north to face fourth-ranked Elizabethton and Grainger head coach Chad Tate said it will be a huge test for his team.

“Elizabethton has a great football tradition,” he said. “They are well coached and they have a lot of really good players so they will definitely be the best team we have seen in either the pre-season or the regular season.”

The Cyclones are coming off a 35-12 win over Daniel Boone, a game that was only a nine-point deficit at the half before Elizabethton added a couple of second half touchdowns. Cade Maupin led the charge for the Cyclones as he rushed 14 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns against the Blazers. Friday’s game will be the third between the two teams since region realignment, and the Grizzlies are still in search of their first win against the Carter County powerhouse. The Grizzlies will need to get off to a good start against Elizabethton as they have been outscored 55-44 in the first half so far this year but have owned the final two quarters, outpacing the opposition 49-18.

Grainger’s defense needs to continue their stellar defensive ways as they have allowed only 141 passing yards since the second half of the Pigeon Forge game in week two of the season. Neither Sullivan South nor Scott hit the century mark in passing yards and the Highlanders’ longest pass was for a meager 12 yards.

Tate said that after a rocky start in the Cumberland Gap and Pigeon Forge games, his team has made the necessary adjustments to improve their pass defense. “We have put emphasis on not giving up the big play because that was our nemesis the first few weeks. We have been able to do that and last week, held Scott to only seven points. The defense did a great job and (defensive coordinator Steve) Finchum has done a great job getting those guys ready. I have been saying that the defense was going to mature since we had a lot of young guys at the skill position and I think you can see that happening week to week.”

Drake Farrow, Reggie McBee, Sam Andrews, Aaron Roach and Peyton Blake anchor the Grainger defense and are part of an overall scheme that is holding opponents to a percentage in the thirties on third down efficiency.

Tate said that his young team is playing older than they really are with each passing week. “A lot of it comes with experience and I think that’s the key. Guys are getting to play and they are doing a great job at practice as we have had really good practices the last few weeks and I have seen us get better.”

While the defense is steaming right along, the offense has hit a snag. For the second week in a row, Grainger scored only six points in a one-point loss to Scott and Tate said part of problem is the Grizzlies have shot themselves in the foot on multiple occasions while moving to within the shadow of the end zone.

“It was kind of the same story as the week before (against Sullivan South) as we were able to move the football up and down the field and once we got into the red zone area, we bogged down,” Tate said. “We have to be able to dial in and focus right there. We have to have attention to detail as last week we had a couple of bobbled snaps, a holding penalty and other things like that. You have to get better at that and we are continuing to work on it. The offensive line played well but our skill guys have to do a better job with the little things.”

Despite the lack of scoring, quarterback Dawson Holt continues to post good numbers as he has 593 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns as the mid part of the season approaches. He ran 30 times last week against Scott and finished the game with 216 yards. Ty Overbay is averaging 10.7 yards per carry.

Kickoff between the Grizzlies and Cyclones is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Citizens Bank Stadium in Elizabethton.