It’s the ultimate challenge

By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor

October 22, 2013

All they do is win.

Since beginning their remarkable run of success in 2009, the Sandy Creek Patriots have been nearly impossible to beat.

The Patriots lost their season opener in 2009, but they haven’t lost in the regular season since, and they’ve only dropped one game overall, and that came in the quarterfinals of the 2011 state playoffs.

Since that loss to East Coweta in the 2009 opener, the Patriots are 62-1-1, with the tie coming in this year’s season opener against Plant (Fla.).

This year’s team is ranked first in Class AAAA, and the Patriots are trying to win a fourth state championship in five years.

That’s what will be confronting the LaGrange Grangers Friday night as they take on the Sandy Creek juggernaut in a Region 5-AAAA game.

The Patriots are leading the region with a 4-0 record, while LaGrange is 3-1.

“When they get off the bus, they have an expectation to win, and they do,” LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch said. “It may be ugly sometimes, but they win.”

The Patriots were pushed last week against the Alexander Cougars.

The Cougars led in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots never panicked, and they scored the game’s final 14 points to win 52-42.

“They’re going to run out and have seven or eight Division I kids. They’re very talented,” Branch said. “But they’re not just a talented group, they are very well-coached. They’ll do the right thing over and over again. It’s not luck.”

It’s a challenge the Grangers aren’t shying away from, though.

“We have to look at it like another game,” senior defensive lineman Devin Boland said. “We can’t be scared because of who they are. They’re just another football team. They’ve got weaknesses. We’ve got weaknesses. We’ve got to go in like it’s anybody’s game.”

Branch said it’s a great opportunity for the players.

“You can make a name for your team, and yourself,” Branch said. “You’re going against somebody whose program, and players are top of the line. It’s a first-class operation. They have good fans, a great program.”

A year ago, on the way to their second 15-0 record in three seasons, the Patriots beat the Grangers 47-13.

Sandy Creek came into this season ranked first and favored to win another title, and the team has done nothing to change that outlook.

Sandy Creek’s defense has been vulnerable at times this season, though.

The Patriots gave up 28 points to Newnan, 35 to East Coweta, and 42 last week to Alexander.

Of course the Patriots haven’t had to be great on defense, thanks to an offense that is scoring 44 points per game.

Delvin Weems and Eric Swinney are both game-breakers at running back, and Cole Garvin is a veteran quarterback.

“They’re not trying to fool you,” Branch said. “Offensively, they get in a lot of formations, but they run about four or five plays. They’re going to run the football, and they’ve got stud receivers out there. They’ve got a very smart quarterback who is an accurate passer. They’re good on both sides of the ball. Whatever better than great is is what they are on offense.”

Branch also figures Sandy Creek will be extra-focused on playing well after last week’s close call against Alexander.

“They’re going to be mad because they didn’t play as good as they usually do,” Branch said. “They’ll be real down, disappointed.”

LaGrange, meanwhile, is coming off a big win.

After losing to Alexander to fall to 2-1 in the region, LaGrange bounced back to beat Fayette County 36-20 last week.

The Grangers had their second-best offensive output of the season.

Quarterback Wynton Heard threw touchdown passes to Hayden Olive and Quan Delaney, and running backs Benny Gray and Mon Denson ran at will.

LaGrange’s defense, which struggled in the 33-19 loss to Alexander, delivered a much stronger outing against Fayette County.

Now, LaGrange will try to carry the momentum from that victory into Friday’s showdown in Tyrone.

“I want to see us compete,” Branch said. “Compete, play with passion, and be excited. It’s a big game. You respect them, but you go out and play like we play. We have an expectation that we haven’t met all the time. I want to meet that.”