When a football coach talks about the keys to a game, winning the turnover battle is usually at or near the top of the list.
In a game where the two teams are fairly evenly matched, the team that does the best job of hanging on to the ball usually has a great chance to prevail.
Friday’s preseason game between LaGrange and Newnan was a prime example of that.
The Grangers did a lot of things well on offense, but they turned the ball over three times in the first half.
Those turnovers kept the Grangers from scoring points, and each one of them led to a Newnan touchdown.
Newnan had a 23-0 lead at the half, and it went on to claim a 23-7 victory.
LaGrange will open its season on Friday against Callaway.
“You can not turn the ball over,” LaGrange coach Dialleo Burks said. “I don’t care how good you are.”
Because of the turnovers, the Grangers were held scoreless in the first half, but that doesn’t mean the offense was ineffective.
An offensive line expected to be a strength of the team did its job well, Jatori Boykin did some nice things at quarterback, and the running game, with senior Mon Denson leading the way, was effective
“We’re talking about 12-play drives, 10-play drives,” Burks said. “We’re holding the ball. There were positive plays. Yet the end result were turnovers.”
Burks said in practice this week, “we really honed in on focusing on not turning the ball over. Make a team beat you because they are just better than you, not because you made a mistake.”
LaGrange’s defense, which has a bunch of new starters this season, also did some solid work in the first half, although there were a few costly breakdowns.
On Newnan’s first possession, the first two plays yielded nothing, forcing a third-and-long.
The Cougars then struck for a 70-yard touchdown pass, with veteran quarterback Bailey Bryant hooking up with Frankie Williams.
It was a play where a LaGrange defender had a chance to bring Bryant down, but he missed the tackle, and a breakdown in the secondary helped Williams get open.
“We had two great plays (to start the drive), and we ran around and looked like the LaGrange of old,” Burks said. “We had eight, nine people on the ball. They were excited. And then come back and break down in coverage, and they hit us for a big one.”
The Cougars later got a touchdown run from J.K. Britt following a LaGrange fumble.
After another LaGrange long drive ended with an interception, the Cougars went on a 14-play drive that ended with a Bryant touchdown pass.
The Grangers went to the break down 23-0, and Burks and the other coaches let the players know what they needed to improve on in the second half.
“There wasn’t a lot of screaming and hollering (at the half),” Burks said. “It was a teaching moment. This is what we’re looking for. This is what you’re supposed to do.”
The Grangers came out in the third, when the starters were still in the game, and played well.
With quarterback Amad Ogletree running the offense, the Grangers scored their lone touchdown in the third quarter on a 35-yard run from Kimani Barnes.
The defense also stood tall and didn’t allow any points.
In the fourth quarter, with the reserves in the game, neither team scored.
“In the end, even though we came up on the short end of the stick, the guys left the field feeling real good about themselves,” Burks said. “Hopefully we can carry on that momentum.”
LaGrange has been hard at work this week preparing for Friday’s showdown with Callaway, which beat Greenville 39-0 in its preseason game.
Burks said the team will have another hard practice today, and then Thursday’s practice will be shorter with the game just a day away.
Burks is expecting a huge turnout at Callaway Stadium as Callaway and LaGrange play for the first time since 2003.
“It’s a big game,” Burks said. “I would love for as many people as possible to come and look at these guys perform.”