The fact that the Grangers won the game made it a lot easier to swallow, though.
The Grangers found the end zone eight times in the game, including three times on the defensive end, to beat the War Eagles 59-46 in the opening round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
Today, the Grangers will look to keep their season alive when they travel to the northwest corner of the state to take on the Ridgeland Panthers in Rossville, a town just south of Chattanooga.
As was the case last week, Branch wants to see his team end up on the right side of the scoreboard, no matter how it happens.
“It really doesn’t matter how you win,” Branch said at the close of Thursday morning’s practice session. “You just want to find a way and do what it takes.”
Against Chestatee, LaGrange did it with an explosive offense that amassed more than 500 yards.
Junior quarterback Zach Giddens had a huge day, and Dee Smith had 170 receiving yards, with more than 80 of those yards coming on a touchdown catch.
Running back Benny Gray had three touchdowns, and Demoton Boyd also had a long touchdown run.
Boyd also did a lot of damage on the defensive end with two interception returns for touchdowns.
The Grangers did have their issues on defense, giving up 545 yards, but they also forced six turnovers and turned three of those into touchdowns.
“Obviously it kills me every time somebody scores,” said Branch, who was the school’s defensive coordinator for nearly 20 years before taking over as head coach last year. “I don’t like for somebody to get a first down. When we’re giving up those kinds of points, it’s very unwelcome. But, at the same time, I’ve been over there when we couldn’t hardly score and we won.”
The bottomline is, a win’s a win.
“When you get in the playoffs, you don’t care (how you win),” Branch said.
Today, LaGrange is taking on another team that can score points in bunches.
Ridgeland does it on the ground.
The number one weapon is Darrell Bridges, who ran for 191 yards and scored five touchdowns in last week’s 45-21 win over Washington.
Bridges has scored 27 touchdowns this season.
Noah Cooper added 88 yards on just 11 attempts last week, and Vonn Bell is an explosive runner who is one of the state’s most recruited players as a defensive back.
Bell returned an interception for a touchdown last week.
“They’re really good (offensively),” Branch said. “They have a massive offensive line, and I mean massive. Their tight end is 6-3, 260. Their fullback (Bridges) is a great player. To me, he’s their best offensive player.”
Branch said that Bell is also a player capable of scoring at any time.
“He’s one of the top recruits in the state, and he plays wingback,” Branch said. “He’s a game breaker.”
Ridgeland has also been stout on defense, giving up 15 points per game, but it hasn’t faced many offenses the caliber of LaGrange’s.
In fact, the one offense Ridgeland faced that’s probably the equivalent of LaGrange’s came in the season opener against Calhoun.
Calhoun won that game 42-35, handing Ridgeland’s its only loss of the season.
“They haven’t seen anybody, since Calhoun, offensively like what we do,” Branch said.
Branch figures if the defense can step up and have a better night, the Grangers should have a chance.
“For us, we just have to get a stop or two,” he said. “You have to execute.”
If LaGrange wins today, it will return to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2008 when it advanced to the state semifinals.
Ridgeland, meanwhile, has never made it past the second round of the playoffs.
Bridges said the team is feeling good about itself after last week’s playoff win.
“It’s always good when you get a chance to see how you respond when the other team punches, and that’s what we did,” Bridges said. “Now it’s time to get past that second-round game.”