The wait is over.
The Troup Tigers will leap into a new season this week, and they’ll get things started against their biggest rival.
On Friday night, before what will be a huge crowd at Callaway Stadium, Troup will renew its rivalry with the LaGrange Grangers.
While Troup didn’t play last week, LaGrange was opening its season with a 20-14 overtime loss to Callaway.
“We’ve very anxious,” Troup defensive back Vanquez Bonner said. “I’m counting the days. I’m ready to get out there. We’ve been practicing real hard going after it.”
Things will be different this year.
It’s a big game, just as it always is, but for the first time since 2003, Troup and LaGrange will be facing off as non-region opponents.
While LaGrange moved up to Class AAAAA, Troup remained in Class AAAA.
Just because a possible playoff spot isn’t on the line doesn’t mean the game means any less to the players, though.
Running back Dre Towns, who will be a big part of the Troup game plan Friday night, said he has “to play it like it’s my last game. Play every play like it’s my last play. We can’t wait to get back on the field.”
Offensive lineman Mitch Mathes, who has been starting since he was a freshman, is ready for his final game against LaGrange.
“It’s my last one. It’s going to be great,” Mathes said. “We want to finish with a bang.”
In recent years, LaGrange and Troup have played toward the end of the season, and the stakes have been high.
A year ago, LaGrange missed the playoffs, largely because of a 27-8 loss to Troup.
That pressure won’t be there when the two teams meet Friday night, but Troup head coach Lynn Kendall said there is still a lot of anticipation.
“As we move toward Friday, the excitement will build,” Kendall said. “It’s our opener, and your opener is always big, and this time it’s with LaGrange, who is a rival. It’s not a region game this year, but it’s still a huge, important game.”
Troup’s coaches got the chance to watch LaGrange play last week, and Kendall was impressed with what he saw.
LaGrange built a 14-0 lead before Callaway scored two late touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie it.
Callaway then scored a touchdown in overtime to pull off the come-from-behind win.
“They’ve got a lot of assets on their team,” Kendall said. “They’ve got a big running back (Mon Denson), they’ve got a good offensive line, the defense seemed to be flying to the ball. I think you look at that game, they played pretty well. It was anybody’s ballgame down until the end.”
Slowing down LaGrange’s running game will be a key point of emphasis for Troup’s defense.
“We’ve been practicing for two weeks preparing for them running downhill, filling in spots where we should,” senior defensive back Hunter Mowers said. “We’re ready.”
Offensively, Troup will try to establish a strong running game, which was a key in last year’s win over LaGrange.
Troup’s running game was more effective as the game went along, and long scoring runs from Towns and Daryl Dunlap in the fourth quarter put the game away.
Dunlap has graduated and is now at San Diego State, but Towns is back, and he’ll get his hands on the ball a lot Friday night.
Fellow running backs Mess Bonner and Dexter Shealey also figure to get their share of carries.
Mathes said the idea is to come out Friday and “just smash them in the face. That’s what you have to do, and (the running backs will) run right behind us. We just need to go in their strong, pound them in the face.”
It helps that the Tigers have a veteran and talented group of offensive linemen, led by Mathes, who plans on playing college football at Mercer.
That group of offensive linemen also includes senior Jason Hernandez and Tristan Thompson.
Hernandez said the goal will be to “blow them off the ball, back in their area.”
While senior quarterback Will Smith is an effective passer and will no doubt get plenty of chances to put the ball in the air Friday night, Hernandez said when the offense is at its best it is controlling the action with the running game.
“That’s always been the emphasis of what this offense is all about,” Hernandez said. “It’s always been fast, execution, and just punching, and punching and punching.”
Towns said the offense will be looking to seize the momentum from the start.
“We want to get the ball, and just go put it in the end zone for six,” Towns said.
Towns is part of a large senior class at Troup, and while those players have enjoyed a lot of success over the years, they’ve also faced some adversity.
Mowers said everything the seniors have gone through in recent years has them ready to face whatever happens Friday.
“We’ve all been playing ball since the eighth grade. We all have chemistry,” Mowers said. “We’re ready to show everybody what we can do. We don’t go down easy.”