RUTLEDGE — One week after making an impressive showing in the Hawkins County Kickoff Classic jamboree, the Grainger Grizzlies are hoping to keep that momentum going as the new year on the gridiron dawns on Friday.

Grainger was affective moving the ball on several long drives in their 14-7 score in the one quarter the varsity Grizzlies played against Cherokee last Friday and after breaking down the film this week in practice, Coach Chad Tate was encouraged by what he saw.

“We executed well at the jamboree and that was a great thing especially since it was the first time they had been out there by themselves and they handled that well,” Tate said of his team’s outing against the Chiefs. “We took care of the football and we did the little things which is what it’s all about. We always preach the little things; to get the snap, execute the play, so I thought we were really good at doing that. Obviously when you watch the film, you see the areas where there needs to be improvement. Overall, I was happy with the way we played.”

The Grizzlies have never been a team to shy away from a challenging schedule and this year is no exception as they open the season against Cumberland Gap this week at The Den. The Panthers have enjoyed a great deal of success under the guidance of Coach DeLynn Cline as they went 7-4 and advanced to the playoffs in 2017 and defeated Republic High School in the CAREacter Star Athlete game in Knoxville at the end of last season.

Cline has totally turned around the Cumberland Gap program as the Panthers’ last winning season was in 2012 when they went 7-4. That year is also the last time they beat the Grizzlies as Grainger won games in 2013 (55-27) and 2014 (50-0). Cline has made the Panthers a perennial winner which is a far cry from the 0-10 season Cumberland Gap suffered in 2015.

Tate had high praise for the job his counterpart has done with the Panthers. “Cumberland Gap is a well-coached football team. Coach Cline does a great job of coaching up his team as you can just see it on film, the way his guys carry themselves and the way they play. They are very disciplined and have enjoyed a lot of success the last few years and are very confident on the field.”

“They are kind of a natural rival for us since they are pretty close so it’s good to get those guys back on the schedule,” Tate said of the 36 miles that separates the two schools. “You always want to play good football teams and Cumberland Gap is obviously a very, very good team. It will be a tough challenge for us this Friday but we are excited about that because the reason we do what we do is to go play on Fridays. The challenge is there but we feel like we are ready to go and our guys are ready to play because they have been out practicing for so long.”

Preparation for the season opener has had an extra challenge thrown at it with the hot and humid temperatures teams in the Lakeway area have had to deal with. Tate said that his player’s safety and well-being are always his top concern and the team has responded well to the adverse weather. “We have the rules and regulations that we follow but we still have to get out there and practice. It’s not going to change anything other than giving our team more water breaks and telling them to drink more water during those breaks. It’s status quo as far as practice and doing our thing. We always follow the TSSAA rules for heat and give more water and breaks when we need it.”

Kickoff between the Grizzlies and Panthers is set for 7:30 at The Den in Rutledge Friday night.