BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
RUTLEDGE -- West Greene Coach Joe Case knows a young football team will make mistakes, but the "little things are killing us" right now, he said after his Buffs dropped a 42-21 decision to homestanding Grainger here Thursday night.
The first Blue Ridge Conference outing of the year saw the Buffs come out on the short end of the score and drop to 0-3 on the year, 0-1 in the BRAC, while the Grizzlies are 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the league.
Backed by tremendous size along the front line, Grainger unleashed a bruising ground assault in their "pistol" formation, using a lot of misdirection plays to keep the WG defense confused and off-balance. The home team finished with 238 yds. rushing, with three players (fullback Noah Bunch 99, tailback Zach Smith 64 and tailback Gabe Buttry 54) doing the most damage.
"Their line is strong," Case said. "We knew that coming in. But we've got to learn to be more physical up there."
Grainger took advantage of West Greene miscues to pull out the win. They returned an interception 100 yds. just before intermission to go up 21-7. They returned an on-side kick for a score. West Greene muffed a punt return that set up another TD.
"Give them credit," Case said of the Grizzlies. "They've got a good football team. We thought they were the team we would have to beat to finish near the top of our league. They did a good job."
Things started off good enough for the Buffs as they took the game's opening kickoff and marched 54 yds. to score. Facing a fourth down and 1 from the Grainger 30, Nathan Morgan ran it in from there when he bounced off a wad of tacklers in the middle of the field and broke into the clear. Brock Shelton's PAT made it 7-0 with 8:46 left in the opening quarter.
But the Grizzlies gave an immediate glimpse of things to come on their first possession. They moved 70 yds. in 16 plays to score and it all came on the ground. It became clear that the Grizz would run the ball behind 6-6, 315 lb. left tackle Max Ewoldt, an imposing figure to try to move out of the way.
Zach Smith scored on a 5-yd. run with 1:23 left in the opening quarter, and Lucas Wear kicked the point to tie the score at 7-7.
After the good drive on their opening possession, the Buffs spent most of the second frame going backward. Two straight possessions resulted in lost yardage.
The defense did step up and halt a Grainger drive as James Marshall stepped in front of a Lance Morton pass and picked it off at the WG 25.
But their next drive went to the end zone, a 50-yd. march. The Buffs had the Grizz facing a third and goal from the 10, but a penalty hurt the Buffs as the ball was moved inside the 5. The third down pass by Morton was incomplete, but the fourth down resulted in a touchdown when Morton hit Cody Watson on a 4-yd. strike. Wear's kick put the home team up 14-7 with only 47 seconds left in the half.
West Greene got something going as Morgan broke free on a 26 yd. run and the ball was moved down to the 28 with time for one more play. The Buffs decided to go for the "Hail Mary" pass, a halfback hurl from Dakota Trentham toward the end zone. But Matt Parker picked the ball off at the goal line and returned it 100 yds. for a touchdown as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"I'll take the blame for that call," Case said. "We told the kids to just treat the play like a punt....if they pick it off, just treat it like a punt return. But we didn't make a play on the guy."
That TD put the score at 21-7 at intermission.
West Greene's defense stepped up and twice stopped the Grizzlies in the third quarter, forcing a punt. But the second punt that the Buffs tried to field was muffed at the WG 20, Grainger recovered and took advantage of the mistake.
Brandon Davis got the touchdown on a 6-yd. run with 1:42 left in the third. The PAT left Grainger with a 28-7 lead.
West Greene didn't pack it in. They took the kickoff and marched 78 yds. to score. Jonathan Padgett broke free on a 32-yd. run. Justin Pinkston threw a 16-yd. pass to Jacob Smith. The score came on a 4-yd. run to the right side of the line by Morgan. Shelton's kick closed the gap to 28-14.
The rest of the half ended in a flurry of points.
First Grainger drove 65 yds. in 11 plays to score with 2:18 left on a 1-yd. run by Buttry to up the lead to 35-14.
Grainger's ensuing kickoff was fielded by Padgett at the 26 and returned all the way for a score. Padgett got a crease up the middle and that was all he needed to begin pulling away from the defenders. That closed the gap to 35-21 with 2:07 to go.
West Greene tried to get the ball back with an on-side kick. But Grainger's Jeremy Tindell picked it off on the fly at the WG 48 and went untouched the other way for the score, making the final 42-21.
"Take away the interception return, the muffed punt, the messed-up onside kick, giving away yards on penalties ... take those away and we were right there," Case said. "But I'm proud of the kids. They are working hard to get better, and we will get better."
The Buffs return home to play Unaka next Friday.
West Greene 7 0 0 14--21
Grainger 7 14 7 14--42
WG - Nathan Morgan, 30-yd. run (Brock Shelton kick)
GHS - Zach Smith, 5-yd. run (Lucas Wear kick)
GHS - Cody Watson, 4-yd. pass from Lance Morton (Wear kick)
GHS - Cody Parker, 100-yd. interception return (Wear kick)
GHS - Brandon Davis, 6-yd. run (Wear kick)
WG - Morgan, 4-yd. run (Shelton kick)
GHS - Gabe Buttry, 1-yd. run (Wear kick)
WG - Jonathan Padgett, 74-yd. kickoff return (Shelton kick)
GHS - Jeremy Tindell, 48-yd. kickoff return (Wear kick)
First Downs 8 16
Yds. Rushing 127 238
Passing (Att-Com-Int) 2-1-1 10-3-1
Yds. Passing 16 23
Total Offense 143 261
Fumbles Lost 1 0
Penalties 7-50 10-75
Punt Avg. 3-36.7 2-31.5
Rushing: WG - Nathan Morgan 14-94, Jonathan Padgett 7-42, Josh Thacker 2-7, Justin Pinkston 2-3, Jacob Smith 1-2, Austin Greenlee 5-(19). GHS - Noah Bunch 14-99, Zach Smith 14-64, Gabe Buttry 12-54, Brandon Davis 6-16, Lance Morton 2-5.
Passing: WG - Justin Pinkston 1-1-0-0-16, Dakota Trentham 1-0-1-0-0. GHS-Lance Morton 10-3-1-1-23.
Receiving: WG - Jacob Smith 1-16. GHS - Brandon Davis 1-6, Cody Watson 1-4, Gabe Buttry 1-13.