Grigsby leads Jackets over HCHS
Published 6:48 pm Monday, August 21, 2023
By JOHN HENSON
MIDDLESBORO — With aspirations of a deep playoff run in Class A two years after advancing to the final four in 2A, the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets passed a big test Saturday with a 14-6 win against visiting Harlan County in the season-opening Elevation Bowl.
The Jackets won the battle up front, holding HCHS to only 68 yards on the ground in the first half, then the veteran secondary foursome of seniors Cayden Grigsby, Kam Wilson and Jack Yoakum and junior Gavin Shehan took over in the second half after the Bears got as close as two points. Senior quarterback Ethan Rhymer was shut out in the second half on five passing attempts while Wilson made numerous big plays in run defense as he came up from safety for several big stops.
“They are athletic back there,” Middlesboro coach Larry French said of his defensive backs. “Cayden, Gavin, Jack and Kam can play back there if they want to. Wilson came up and made some plays tonight from his safety position. We’ve been trying to get him to do that for three years. He finally did that tonight, and it was a good time to do it.”
Grigsby, the Jackets’ star senior quarterback, was again the playmaker on offense with 66 yards rushing, including a 10-yard TD run in the first quarter, along with 121 yards through the air on nine-of-14 passing, capped by a 7-yard strike across the middle to Yoakum to give Middlesboro the eight-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“We just have to get (Grigsby) a little time to throw the football. We have some good skilled people who can catch the ball. We just have to give him time to throw,” French said. “They did a good job defensively taking away some of the things we like to do. We have to do a better job of focusing in tough situations and not get stupid penalties. It was a tough battle out there tonight and there were a lot of mistakes, but I thought the effort by both teams was great.”
The Bears lost their top player in the third quarter when senior receiver/quarterback Jonah Swanner suffered an apparent knee injury as he went out of bounds after a 12-yard run. Swanner was taken off the field by emergency personnel and was reportedly flown to the University of Tennessee Hospital.
Swanner’s run was the first play of what turned into a four-play scoring drive. Senior tailback Thomas Jordan covered 43 yards over the next three plays, scoring on a 29-yard run around left end with 2:33 left in the period to cut the deficit to 8-6. Jordan was stopped on the two-point conversion attempt after one of the Bears’ 11 penalties on the night.
“That’s the kind of intensity this team will have to play with to win some football games,” Harlan County coach Amos McCreary said. “You lose a Jonah Swanner you don’t turn around and replace him the next day. You have to have 11 guys out the playing hard to make up for someone like that.”
Harlan County had a chance to take the lead after stopping the Jackets on downs but couldn’t pick up a first down.
A pass from Grigsby to Wilson, who picked up a big gain down the sideline, set up the Grigsby to Yoakum touchdown with 7:55 to play. The two-point conversion pass incomplete, giving the Bears a chance to tie.
Jordan picked up 11 yards, then Grigsby was flagged for pass interference as he bumped into Luke Kelly on a pass down the sideline, The Bears had the ball inside the Middlesboro 30 when senior lineman Trey King broke through to blow up a fourth-and-one play with 3:15 left.
“They have some guys who have played a lot the past three years, and we didn’t move the ball like we should have with our offensive line,” McCreary said. “That was our strength with our offensive line. I thought we’d control it, but they controlled it.”
“Defensively, we’ve some big-time improvement the last two weeks, and tonight they stepped up and did a good job,” French said.
Harlan County will travel to Hazard on Friday. Middlesboro will play at Garrard County on Friday.
Middlesboro 14, Harlan County 6
Harlan County 0-0-6-0 — 6
Middlesboro 8-0-0-6 — 14
M — Grigsby 10 run (Grigsby run)
HC — Jordan 29 run (run failed)
M — Yoakum 7 pass from Grigsby (pass failed)