Grangers fight through adversity
by By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor
If it can go wrong, it probably has gone wrong for the LaGrange Grangers this season.
From injuries, to suspensions, to untimely mistakes during games, it has been a frustrating season for the Grangers, who head into today’s home game against Fayette County at 2-4 overall, and 2-1 in Region 5-AAAA.
While the Grangers have a winning record in the region, they’re coming off a disappointing 33-19 loss to Alexander, and they’re likely facing a must-win scenario today against Fayette County because of the difficult three-game stretch to close the season.
“We’ve had a lot of disappointments,” LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch said. “There’s been a burst of good things, but honestly, there hasn’t been enough playing like LaGrange High, how we play, and doing the little things. That’s the difference in winning and losing. It’s not due to lack of effort. The staff’s put in a lot of time trying to take care of it, because we haven’t gotten it done.”
Last week against Alexander, LaGrange lost 33-19 after falling behind 6-0 at the half.
Branch said the Grangers left a lot of points on the field in the first two quarters.
“We had a million things go wrong,” Branch said. “And we really should have been up 21-6, or 28-6 in the first half.”
In the second half, LaGrange’s offense heated up and scored three touchdowns on scoring runs by Benny Gray and Mon Denson, but the defense was unable to stop Alexander.
LaGrange now must face a Fayette County team that is just 1-5 overall, but is still a dangerous ball club.
A year ago, Fayette County was also 1-5 when it beat LaGrange 38-35 in overtime.
Fayette County is 1-2 in the region, but those losses came in back-to-back weeks against Sandy Creek and Carrollton, the state’s top two teams in Class AAAA Associated Press poll.
Last week, Fayette County finally got on the board with a 34-6 win over Columbus.
“I watched them battle Sandy Creek toe-to-toe for almost two quarters. At the same time, they’ll play Columbus two-to-toe for two quarters,” Branch said. “They’ve been a little bit Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But, we’ve got to move the ball, and we’ve got to execute. They’ve got good football players. This is going to be a very tough football game.”
LaGrange will continue to be short-handed.
Quarterback Zach Giddens will sit out another game with a separated shoulder suffered in a loss to Thomson on Sept. 20.
Giddens, who had a terrific junior season, missed the first two games while recovering from off-season surgery, and he hurt his shoulder in the first quarter of his first game back.
LaGrange is also missing some players on the offensive line with injuries, and there have been injuries on the defensive side as well.
Also, some key players have missed time because of suspensions, and two starters will be on the sideline this week because of disciplinary issues.
The team obviously has no choice but to fight through the adversity, though, and Branch has been pleased with the response in practice this week.
“I will say this much, no matter how ugly it is, and how frustrating it is and all that, we came out and had I thought four really good days of practice,” Branch said.
Branch also felt the presence of some younger players helped keep the enthusiasm level up this week.
“We rewarded some freshmen, so we’ve got some freshmen up with us, and they gave us a burst,” Branch said. “There’s excitement when they come up. That’s been good for us. They got to put the stars and stripes on their helmets. They’re excited.”
With everything that has gone wrong, the Grangers still control their own playoff destiny, although the path to state isn’t an easy one.
LaGrange closes the season against Sandy Creek, Troup and Carrollton.
Sandy Creek has won three state titles in four seasons and is ranked first in the state, Carrollton is ranked second and has blown out everyone it has played, and the Troup game is always tough.
Considering what’s ahead, LaGrange desperately needs to get a win today, and Branch expects a hard-fought game.
“They’re only going to bring about 32 kids, but they are athletic,” Branch said. “They run an offense that is hard to stop. They beat us last year. They’re talented.”
OF NOTE: LaGrange High’s seniors will be honored before the game. Branch said they’ll be introduced about 7:10 p.m. Also, at halftime of today’s game, the 2003 state-championship team will be honored.
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