Grangers tune up with preseason game
By Kevin Eckleberry
FRANKLIN – He asked his men to fight to the finish line.
As the LaGrange Grangers prepared for Friday’s preseason game against Heard County, head coach Dialleo Burks’ message to his players was to give max effort until the clock hit zero.
So Burks, who is heading into his fourth season as the Grangers’ head coach, was pleased to see his players deliver an inspired performance in the fourth quarter of Friday’s game at Staple Stadium on the Heard County campus.
The Grangers entered the fourth quarter trailing 20-0, but they scored two touchdowns in the final 12 minutes and were on the Braves’ 1-yard-line when the game ended.
Heard County, which is expected to enjoy a strong season under veteran head coach Tim Barron, won the preseason game 26-14.
Both of LaGrange’s touchdown drives were led by sophomore quarterback DeAundre Towns.
Towns had a touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter to put the Grangers on the board, and he also threw a scoring pass to sophomore wide receiver DJ Burks, who is coach Burks’ son.
It was the reserve players on the field for both teams in the fourth quarter, and the LaGrange backups were committed to finishing strong.
“We came in, and we were focused,” said DJ Burks, who had a 15-yard touchdown catch. “We had our eyes on the prize. We wanted to get on the board.”
The game was at the tail end of what has been a difficult week for the Grangers.
Friday’s game came just six days after freshman Nar’Quevious Tucker died following an incident in the LaGrange College pool during a team activity.
The focus for the players has obviously been on a lot more than football, but Burks was proud of the way they got themselves ready to go against a talented Heard County team.
“Their mind is everywhere right now,” Burks said. “We wanted them to just come out and focus on this for this amount of time. And they did.”
When the starters were on the field for both teams, it was Heard County enjoying a 20-0 cushion, although LaGrange did some good things through the first three quarters.
Sophomore quarterback Charles Crawford and the LaGrange offense moved the ball well at times, but Burks said there were too many costly mistakes.
In the second quarter, Myles Johnson had a 66-yard run deep into Heard County territory that was called back because of a holding penalty.
LaGrange had to punt from its own 5-yard line, and that led to a Heard County touchdown.
“We had a couple of penalties, and one or two turnovers,” Burks said. “We’ve got to eliminate those. We call them drive-killers. You can’t have a lot of drive killers.”
Defensively, LaGrange also had its moments, but Heard County quarterback Emory Jones was the difference-maker.
Jones, who has verbally committed to Ohio State, had a touchdown run as well as two scoring passes, one to Jaden Moreland, and the other to Micaiah Austin.
Jones’ 9-yard touchdown run as the first half expired gave the Braves a 13-0 lead.
After the Braves went up 20-0 with a touchdown on their first possession of the second half, the Grangers went three-and-out.
Heard County couldn’t get anything going on its ensuing possession, and after a punt, LaGrange’s offense came to life.
Towns led the Grangers on a touchdown drive that ended on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
Towns had a long run into Heard County territory, and Johnson followed with a 15-yard run to the 5-yard line as the third quarter ended.
On the first play of the final quarter, Towns faked an option pitch, and he kept the ball for a 5-yard touchdown.
Matt Rainey made the first of his two extra points, and Heard County led 20-7.
After LaGrange’s defense made a stop, Towns and the offense got the ball back.
On fourth-and-15, Burks opted to keep the offense on the field, and that decision paid dividends.
Towns had a 17-yard gain for the first down, and the Grangers marched down the field for another score.
Andraka Martin had a run of about 15 yards to put the Grangers keep in Braves’ territory.
That set up 15-yard touchdown pass from Towns to Burks.
The coverage was there, but Burks beat his defender to make the scoring catch, and Rainey made the extra point to trim Heard’s lead to 20-14 with 4:28 to play.
The Braves answered with a touchdown run from Tae Gray to push the lead to 26-14.
With Sammy Caputo at quarterback, The Grangers were driving when time ran out with the ball on the Braves’ 1-yard line.
LaGrange has two weeks before it regular-season opener against Callaway on Aug. 18.