Big-time challenge awaits Grangers
LAGRANGE – It doesn’t get any easier.
The LaGrange Grangers appeared to be in prime position to move to 2-0 in Region 5-AAAA when they jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead over the Cedartown Bulldogs on Friday night.
Three consecutive second-half turnovers led to three straight Cedartown touchdowns, though, and LaGrange ended up falling 27-17.
That loss left LaGrange (2-4 overall) with a 1-1 region record, and on Friday, it will be on the road against Cartersville (6-0, 2-0), the defending state champion and the state’s top-ranked team.
LaGrange is in the midst of a grueling stretch of games.
LaGrange’s next two opponents, Cartersville and Troup, have a combined record of 11-1, and it follows that up with a game against a Sandy Creek team that was ranked fourth in the state last week.
LaGrange’s final regular-season game is against Chapel Hill, which features one of the region’s most explosive players in Jadon Walker.
LaGrange likely needs to find a way to win at least two of its final four games to be in position to secure one of the region’s four playoff invitations.
A year ago, LaGrange missed the playoffs after it lost in a mini-playoff to Columbus on the Monday following the regular season.
“We don’t want to get in a position where we’re fighting for our lives like we did last year,” LaGrange head coach Dialleo Burks said. “We would love to be the captain of our own ship. But hey, we’re going to see what type of team we really have next week. We’ll see how we come back.”
Cartersville presents a massive obstacle.
The Purple Hurricanes went 15-0 and won a state championship a year ago, and they’ve blown the doors off of everyone they’ve played this season.
Cartersville has outscored its six opponents 258-36, and in its two region games it beat Cedartown 44-6 and Central-Carroll 59-9.
Cartersville is led by 6-foot-4 Trevor Lawrence, who is one of country’s top-rated quarterbacks.
After the Cartersville game, LaGrange plays a surging Troup team that is also 2-0 in the region and is coming off a 28-20 road win over Sandy Creek.
LaGrange received a lift last week from the return of senior quarterback LaPerion Perry, who missed the first five games while recovering from offseason hip surgery.
Perry played the entire first half and led LaGrange to a pair of touchdowns.
Burks sat out most of the second half, and LaGrange struggled.
The Grangers’ first three possessions of the second half resulted in two lost fumbles and an interception, and the Bulldogs turned each of those miscues into touchdowns.
After Cedartown added another touchdown in the fourth quarter to go up by 10, Perry re-entered the game late, but LaGrange was unable to put any more points on the scoreboard.
As critical as Perry is to the team’s success, Burks said “we can’t rely on one guy to win a ballgame for us. It’s a team effort. Coaching as well. It’s all of us. We’re going to go back to the drawing board, and see what we did wrong, and we’re going to correct it.”
There’s no doubt having Perry back provided a spark, though.
On his first play on the game’s opening drive, Perry showed off his familiar elusiveness when he beat the Cedartown defense for a 26-yard run.
Later on that drive, Perry completed a 26-yard pass to Russell, and he finished off that drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
Austin Stamper made the extra point, and LaGrange led 7-0.
Late in the second quarter, LaGrange got two more points when Cedartown’s punter was tackled in the end zone, and it was a 9-0 game.
LaGrange capped the first-half scoring by going 52 yards for a touchdown.
The Grangers did it all on the ground.
Amad Ogletree, who has played quarterback for much of the season but has settled in at running back, had a 7-yard run to get that drive going, and Cornell Kendrick had some tough yards up the middle.
Perry had a 19-yard run to the 10-yard line, and Kendrick did the rest.
The hard-running junior had two straight carries to put the ball on the 1-yard line, and he finished that drive off with a touchdown run where he bulled right through Cedartown’s would-be tacklers.
Perry then rifled a pass to Jamari Thrash for the two-point conversion, and LaGrange led 17-0.
Cedartown missed a field goal in the closing moments of the first half, and LaGrange had a seemingly comfortable 17-point lead.
The second half started well for LaGrange, with Cedartown going three-and-out.
On the Grangers’ first possession of the half, sophomore quarterback Jakoby Smith completed a 13-yard pass to Trash, and Smith followed that up with a 13-yard run to midfield.
It looked like the LaGrange offense was going to keep on rolling, even without Perry.
A fumble on the next play gave the ball to the Bulldogs, though, and Kobe Pryor scored on a 45-yard run on the next play, and LaGrange’s lead was down to 10.
On LaGrange’s next possession, Smith completed a 21-yard pass to Thrash, putting the ball on the 42-yard line.
Two plays later, Smith completed another pass, but that play ended with a fumble, and Cedartown recovered in LaGrange territory.
Quarterback Trevon Wofford capped that drive with a 20-yard scoring pass to Quan Neal, and LaGrange’s lead was down to 17-14.
Moments later, Neal picked off a pass for Cedartown, and he returned the ball to the LaGrange 16-yard line.
On the next play, Wofford tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Bowman, and with 2:23 left in the third quarter, Cedartown led 21-17.
In less than five minutes, Cedartown had scored three touchdowns, and all of those scoring drives began in LaGrange territory.
Despite everything that had gone wrong, LaGrange was only down by four points, so it was still in the game.
The Grangers drove from their own 28-yard line all the way to the Bulldogs’ 17, but a fourth-down play failed.
Perry made his return to action on the final play of that drive, and he kept the ball and came up just short of the first-down marker after picking up three yards.
Cedartown then went 86 yards for a touchdown, with Wofford capping that drive with a 5-yard run with 5:17 to play.
Now trailing by 10, LaGrange made it midfield on its next possession.
Perry had a 13-yard keeper, and Ogletree had a 15-yard run, but that drive ended with an unsuccessful fourth-down play.
Cedartown turned the ball over on downs on its next possession, but there was only 1:08 left when LaGrange took over.
Perry completed a pair of passes, including one covering 22 yards to Thrash, but time ran out before LaGrange could cross midfield.
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports