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Turnovers contribute to Braves’ loss against Middlesboro

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By Wade Holland

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On the surface, Grant County High School’s season-opening loss on the road at Middlesboro could be viewed as a major disappointment and as a sign of things to come for the young Braves. But second-year head coach Kevin Siple warns against it.
Middlesboro, one of the state’s top Class 2A programs, had little trouble with the visiting Braves, building an early lead and never looking back in a 48-20 win. Siple found more positives than negatives in the defeat to the tradition-rich Yellowjackets.

“I don’t believe this first game will be any indicator of what we’re going to do this year,” said Siple, who acknowledged the fact that Middlesboro, which lost only one player from last year’s squad, was simply the better team.

“I really feel good about our team and our season. We know it’s not going to be easy, especially against our district. But we’ve just got to show the kids that when you work hard, and you pay your dues, you’re going to get some rewards for it. And I really believe it’s going to happen,” Siple said.

Middlesboro took advantage of Grant County turnovers and mental mistakes to build an early lead, which was 21-0 after one quarter and 34-7 at the half. But, the Braves continued to play hard and never got down on themselves, a fact that Siple uses as a measuring stick for the team’s progress since he took over a year ago.
“I love to win. So I’m not happy with the loss,” he said. “But I’m real proud of the guys and their effort. They never gave up and played hard all the way to the last play. I think we just played a better team and you have to give Middlesboro the credit. But our guys never gave up. Even when we were down, they never gave up and they hung in there and didn’t quit.”

The long bus ride from Dry Ridge to Middlesboro, a town only a few miles from both the Tennessee and Virginia borders, was not a factor in the Braves’ sometimes sloppy play that saw the team commit several costly turnovers and mistakes that Middlesboro took advantage of in building its lead.

“We wanted to experience what it’s like to get on the bus and travel long distance and play a good football team like Middlesboro,” said Siple. “And I’m proud of the character we showed on the trip. I can’t fault our guys. We just played a team that was better than us.
“We wanted to see how the guys reacted in a hostile environment and we’re happy with the way they responded,” he added.
Grant County got off to a good start, holding Middlesboro without any positive yards on the Yellowjackets’ first possession.

But Grant County was unable to generate much offense on its first possession and was forced to punt without gaining a first down. That’s where things started to go wrong for the Braves when the ball was snapped over he punter’s head, giving Middlesboro great field position. The host Yellowjackets immediately took advantage, scoring on a 13-yard run just six seconds later.

Middlesboro maintained it’s momentum, scoring on a 14-yard pass to go up 13-0, before closing out the period with a one-yard touchdown run followed by a successful two-point conversion pass to build its lead to 21-0 after one quarter.

The host team extended its lead to 27-0 early in the second quarter, but Grant County never gave up and found the end zone late in the half when quarterback Joseph Knipp hit a streaking Derek Southerland with a 23-yard touchdown pass to put the Braves on the board. Ben Willoughby connected on the PAT to pull the Braves within 27-7.

The touchdown was set up by a nice double-pass from Knipp to Southerland, who hit a wide-open Bradley Vaughn for a 42-yard gain.
But Middlesboro continued to flex its muscle, scoring again right before the half to extend its lead to 34-7.

The Yellowjackets picked up in the second half where they left off in the first, scoring on a one-yard run just 30 seconds into the third quarter to extend their lead to 41-7, followed by a 12-yard touchdown run less than six minutes later to go on top 48-7.
Grant County played  better over the final 12 minutes of the game, scoring two touchdowns, one on a 1-yard run by Knipp and another on a Vaughn 16-yard punt return, to put the final points on the board.

Grant County (0-1) will return home to face heated-rivalry Owen County this Friday at 8 p.m. in the Commonwealth Counseling Bowl.

Despite the fact that the game is a non-district matchup, it is important to the Braves’ season and their confidence moving forward.
“We’ve got to have some success and the kids start to believe that this really can work,” said Siple . “They keep hearing the same things from the coaches, that if you work hard it will pay off. So having some success in the next two or three weeks will be key for us. It will let the kids taste some growth.”