BY BRIAN HAMILTON
RUTLEDGE – Seymour clinched a playoff birth with a 35-14 win over Grainger on Friday, one year after going winless.
“The turnover game is very important,” Seymour head coach Scott Branton said. “Whoever wins the turnover battle and runs the football better usually wins.”
Seymour forced seven Grainger turnovers and slightly outrushed the Grizzlies 131 to 125.
Grainger’s first turnover came on its first snap of the game, which was recovered by Seymour’s Tyler Rogers.
The Eagles took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 5-yard run by Kai Thompson with 7:34 left, capping a 9-play, 57-yard drive.
Seymour increased its lead to 14-0 with 6:14 remaining in the second quarter when quarterback Eli Funck hit Brooks Crowder for a 62-yard touchdown. Thompson scored his second touchdown of the night on a 9-yard run, as the sophomore gave the Eagles a 21-0 halftime lead.
Ryan Lodari caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Funck with 7:40 left in the third quarter, extending the Seymour lead to 28-0.
Grainger would finally get on the scoreboard with just over four minutes left in the third when Cainin Long ran for a 3-yard touchdown, making the score 28-7.
Brendon Harris returned an interception 54 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter for a 35-7 lead. Grainger would find paydirt for the second time, with 3:35 left in the game, as Bryson Bennett ran for a 2-yard touchdown.
The Eagles would go on to defeat the Grizzlies 35-14 to secure its first playoff berth since 2015.
“It’s our first time going to the playoffs in six years,” Senior Brendon Harris said. “We were expected to go 0-10 just like last year. This is a big statement for us and a big change in our culture.”
Seymour (6-2, 2-2 Class 4A Region 1) will travel to South Greene (7-2), winners of seven straight, in a non-region matchup before its region finale with Elizabethton. The Eagles currently sit at fourth-place in Region 1, as Volunteer (2-2) owns the head to head tie-breaker.
Grainger (4-5, 0-5 Class 4A Region 1) will host Claiborne (0-7) in their season finale on Friday night.