Road to state begins
The journey to state begins this week.
Callaway, LaGrange and Troup all hope to be playing football beyond the final week of the regular season, and to make that a reality, they’ll all have to get it done against their region opponents.
The math is simple.
There are eight teams in Region 5-AAAA, and eight teams in Region 4-AAA.
Half of those teams will go to the state playoffs, and the other half will be packing the equipment away after the final regular-season game.
All three local teams will begin their region journeys this week, and they each hope to take the first step toward earning an invitation to the state-playoff party that begins in the middle of November.
Troup will be in action at home tonight against Alexander, Callaway hosts Jackson on Friday, and LaGrange will head down the road to Kinnett Stadium to play Shaw on Friday.
Win or lose, there will obviously be plenty of work left to do for the Cavs, Grangers and Tigers.
These games are, after all, just the first of seven for each team against region competition, but they’re critical games nonetheless, and you know the local squads would love to get the region schedule started on the right foot.
Here’s a quick look at each game, as well as a prediction.
ALEXANDER AT TROUP: This one was over early last year.
After opening with three straight losses to start the season, the Tigers took out some frustration against Alexander on the way to a 49-7 victory.
This year, Alexander seems to be poised to make things a lot more competitive.
A year ago, Alexander was 0-3, and it was on the way to eight straight losses to start the season.
This year, the Cougars already have a couple of wins, and they’ve hung more than 40 points on Bremen and Carver-Atlanta while displaying a potent, balanced offense.
The Cougars were a doormat in the region a year ago, but they look like a team that could be right there in the playoff chase this season.
Troup, meanwhile, is 1-2, and it has been put to the test with back-to-back games against Callaway and Newnan.
The Tigers lost those games, but they learned a lot, and they found out what it takes to beat teams of that caliber, and also what you can’t do if you hope to be successful against quality teams.
The Tigers have done a lot of good things the first three weeks, and they could be 3-0 if they’d avoided some of the mistakes in the turnover and penalty department.
The Tigers didn’t play last week, so they’ve had two weeks to shore up some of their shortcomings, and also to get some of the injured players healed up.
With their strong running game, and a defense that has stood tall against some powerful offenses, the Tigers appear well-positioned to not only win today’s game, but make a lot of noise throughout the region schedule.
As for today’s game, Alexander should be able to make things more interesting than a year ago, but look for Troup to have a happy homecoming.
MY PICK: Troup 28-14
LAGRANGE AT SHAW: The Grangers are eager to turn the page after a difficult stretch of non-region games.
Against Newnan and Harris County, second-half collapses proved to be the Grangers’ downfall as they gave up 28 unanswered points in each game.
Two weeks ago against Thomson, LaGrange avoided that second-half letdown, but a late rally fell just short in a 31-28 loss.
The Grangers have done a lot of things right in the first three games, but considering they’ve lost each of those games, they’ve obviously got plenty to work on.
LaGrange has given up at least 31 points in each of its games, so it has to do a better job of stopping the opposition.
Offensively, the Grangers are averaging 25 points a game, but they’ve also had some costly turnovers, including three interceptions in the first quarter against Thomson.
LaGrange also received a blow when quarterback Zach Giddens, who missed the first two games while recovering from off-season surgery, lasted just one quarter in his comeback against Thomson before leaving the game with an injury.
Fortunately for the Grangers, Wynton Heard has filled in admirably at quarterback, and he nearly led the team to a comeback win against Thomson.
LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch is hopeful all of the adversity the players have faced has helped prepare them for a tough Region 5-AAAA schedule.
“Everything you do in the first three games is in preparation for region, and the playoffs,” Branch said.
The road has been a bit smoother for Shaw.
The Raiders, who finished fourth in the region a year ago to make the playoffs, are 2-1.
They’re coming off a 22-17 victory over Hardaway where they scored a pair of defensive touchdowns and forced five turnovers.
The Raiders found a way to grind out a win in a game where a lot of things went wrong, a trait that could serve them well over the next seven games.
This won’t be an easy game for LaGrange, it never is against Shaw, especially when the game is played in Columbus.
Shaw has a play-maker in sophomore quarterback Tyron Huff, and a defense that has been forcing a bunch of turnovers.
It’s set up to another classic game between these two rivals.
The Grangers are well-prepared for this game after playing a challenging early-season schedule, and you have to believe the two weeks between games will serve them well.
The Grangers have found out in the first month of the season that the line between winning and losing is thin one.
They’ve found themselves on the wrong side of that line in the first two games, but I believe they’re ready to break through this week.
If they can hang on to the ball, and avoid the defensive breakdowns that have proven costly, the Grangers will finally get to celebrate that elusive first victory.
MY PICK: LaGrange 24-20
JACKSON-ATLANTA AT CALLAWAY: The Cavaliers are as prepared as they can be for their region schedule.
When head coach Pete Wiggins put the non-region schedule together, he knew how challenging it would be.
After opening the season against Heard County in the Pulpwood Classic, Callaway took on Troup before playing an extremely potent Harris County team last week.
Callaway won two of those games before losing to Harris County last week.
While the Cavaliers would obviously love to be 3-0, the idea of these early games was to get ready for the region schedule, and hopefully for the state playoffs down the road.
Callaway also played a talented Shaw team in its preseason game.
“All four of those teams, in Troup, and Heard, and Harris, and Shaw, they’re all well-coached, and they have great football players,” Wiggins said. “We feel like it’s good for us preparing for our region.”
First up for Callaway will be Friday’s homecoming game against Jackson-Atlanta in the first Region 4-AAA game for both teams.
Jackson is off to a nice start with a 2-1 record, and it has won back-to-back games against Therrell and Atlanta, although those two teams are both winless.
Jackson did play an unbeaten Towers team in the first week, and although the Jaguars didn’t score a point in that game, the defense played well in a 13-0 loss.
The Jaguars are surely feeling confident, and they’re ready to come into Callaway Stadium and put up a fight, but it’ll be a big-time challenge.
Despite last week’s loss to Harris County, this is an extremely talented, well-coached and experienced Callaway team.
The Cavaliers will have no problem bouncing back from a loss, and they’ll be ready to come out and put on a show for the home fans on homecoming night.
Look for Callaway to get its region schedule started with a bang.
MY PICK: Callaway 40-20
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