Renewing a rivalry
LaGrange, Newnan set for showdown
by By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor
The LaGrange Grangers came into their 2005 game with the Newnan Cougars riding a 29-game winning streak, and they’d won back-to-back state championships.
On that August night at Drake Stadium, though, LaGrange’s winning streak came to a close with a 23-14 loss to Newnan.
For Newnan, that victory started a trend that LaGrange is hoping to reverse Friday night at Callaway Stadium.
Beginning with that victory in 2005, Newnan has won six consecutive games in the series.
LaGrange came close to ending that slide a year ago, but it was unable to hold a second-half lead and lost 24-21.
“It’s real fun (playing Newnan), but it’d be a lot more fun if we could win one,” LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch said.
Linebacker Tae Glover said he and the other seniors don’t want to leave LaGrange without a win over Newnan.
“I want to beat them so bad,” Glover said. “I haven’t beaten them since I’ve been here.”
Quarterback Wynton Heard said the players understand the significance of this rivalry that dates back more than 100 years.
“That’s probably the number one game on my list this year,” Heard said. “It’s time to put an end to the losing streak and win one.”
Newnan comes into the game with a game under its belt, although it wasn’t a particularly positive experience.
The Cougars lost to Marietta 52-21, and they allowed more than 50 points in a regular-season game for the first time since 1980.
The Cougars are having to replace 14 starters from last year’s 9-3 team, and last week’s game showed they have some work to do.
Branch was at that game, and he said it was surprising to see a Newnan team get beaten that handily.
“That’s very unusual,” Branch said. “It doesn’t matter who Newnan plays, it’s competitive. You can’t line up somebody they’re not competitive with, so that was a shocking turn of events the other night. And it’s not indicative of what they are. It didn’t fool me. I was there. I looked at them, and they looked like Newnan to me.”
Branch said Newnan’s offense moved the ball well, but the Cougars didn’t have the ball a whole lot because Marietta went up and down the field with such ease.
Leading 17-7, Marietta put the game away when it scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions in the third quarter.
Newnan’s offense was led by quarterback Bailey Bryant, who threw a pair of scoring passes.
Branch describes Newnan’s offense as “quick-strike, dangerous.”
“Newnan’s offense was scary the whole game to me,” Branch added. “Newnan defensively, they struggled stopping them. They couldn’t get the ball.”
Newnan may have been hurt by not playing a preseason game.
Newnan was supposed to play Griffin, but that game was called off because of poor field conditions.
Branch expects the Cougars to be a lot sharper this week.
“They’re solid. They’re well-coached,” Branch said. “We expect them to play well.”
As for LaGrange, it was impressive in a 34-0 victory over Valley last week in a preseason game.
LaGrange’s defense overwhelmed Valley, giving up just a couple of first downs while dominating the line of scrimmage.
Offensively, the Grangers ran the ball well, with Benny Gray, Mon Denson and quarterback Wynton Heard getting it done behind an offensive line that was dominant.
Still, Branch said the Grangers still have a ways to go to be the kind of team they want to be.
“We’ve got some holes we’re trying to plug,” Branch said. “I know where they’re at. We try to keep plugging them up and getting better. I think we can be a good football team in region play. We’ve got some areas where we need to improve a lot. I’m not under any illusion that we don’t have a long way to go. But I think that folks are going to like this football team.”
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