Prep football teams off and running

Published 2:48 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – Two weeks are in the books.

It’s way too premature to take anything definitive from the outcomes of the early-season football games, but there are some trends worth keeping an eye on.

On the win-loss front, it’s been smooth sailing for the Troup Tigers, who improved to 2-0 with Saturday’s 36-8 victory over Kendrick, while Callaway is 1-0 following its season-opening 26-0 win over LaGrange.

On the other side of the equation are LaGrange and Lafayette Christian, who have both come up empty in their first two games.

So, what have the first two weeks of the season told us, keeping in mind that if a football season is a marathon, we’ve barely left the starting line.

Here are a few thoughts on what I’ve seen so far:

CALLAWAY: A strength of Callaway’s team figured to be a veteran, talented defense, and that has been the case so far, although the sample size is small since the team has only played one regular-season game.

In that one game, Callaway’s defense put the clamps on LaGrange’s offense on the way to a 26-0 victory.

The Cavaliers dominated the line of scrimmage, with senior Lichon Terrell and the other defensive linemen getting the job done, and the linebackers swooped in and made a bunch of tackles.

Jonathan Leonard, who had more than 100 tackles a year ago, led the team with 11 tackles against the Grangers and four of those stops were for a loss.

Callaway’s secondary wasn’t tested often, but those men were ready each time the ball was in the air.

One of the defensive backs, Kobe Jackson, had an interception in the first half, and he had a pick six in the second half negated because of a penalty.

Callaway’s defense will face some big-time tests in the coming weeks, beginning with Friday’s showdown against Handley, which won a state championship in Alabama a year ago.

My guess is Callaway’s defense, which is led by defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard, will be up to the challenge.

On offense against the Grangers, the Cavaliers showed off their big-play ability when quarterback Kedrick Ramsey hooked up with Courtney Williams on a 63-yard touchdown pass late in the first half.

In the second half, the Cavaliers put their power running game on display when they drove 48 yards for their other offensive touchdown.

It was an inconsistent offensive effort at times, but that’s not terribly surprising considering the talented players who were lost from the 2016 team.

You don’t lose men like Dylan Johnson (quarterback), Braylon Sanders (wide receiver) and Jibrell Jackson (fullback) and just pick up where you left off.

The Cavaliers will, though, most likely be a dynamic offense once again as they gain experience.

Senior running back DJ Atkins was slowed by the Grangers, but this is a man who ran for more than 2,000 yards a year ago, so he’ll get his numbers.

Sophomore Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby is a powerful runner who will provide a terrific complement to Atkins, and Ramsey looked more and more comfortable at quarterback as the LaGrange game went along.

The Cavaliers have plenty of weapons in the passing game, including Williams who had the touchdown against the Grangers.

Not to be overlooked is an experienced offensive line that will a load for defenses to handle.

Experts tell us games are often won and lost on the line of scrimmage, and if that’s truly case, it’s great news for the Cavaliers.

Big picture for the Cavaliers, the sky is the limit.

Last year’s team came within two victories of a state title, and there’s no reason this team can’t be in the championship conversation as well.

LAGRANGE: The LaGrange Grangers are committed to making their Wing T offense work, despite some less-than-stellar results in the first two games.

LaGrange was shut out by Callaway and Villa Rica, and the first-team offense was also held scoreless in a preseason game against Heard County.

The Grangers will keep plugging away, and there have been some positive signs in the two blowout losses.

LaGrange has run the ball effectively on occasion, and senior Cornell Kendrick always runs hard and is a load to bring down.

Sophomore quarterback Charles Crawford has made some nice throws for modest gains, although the Grangers have yet to hit for a big play in the passing game.

The formula for the Grangers to succeed offensively is to use their power running game to march down the field, grinding out yardage and using up the clock while hopefully putting some points on the board.

It hasn’t worked that way yet, but the Grangers will keep getting after in practice with the hope that the tide will eventually turn on game night.

LaGrange’s defense, which was so effective in the opener against Callaway, had a hard time dealing with Villa Rica’s power running game last week.

The reality is, not a whole lot has gone right for the Grangers, and the results tell that story.

Head coach Dialleo Burks and his new-look staff remain positive, though, and the players will be ready to go when Thursday’s game against Griffin rolls around.

The Grangers have two more games before they begin the all-important Region 5-AAAA schedule, and the hope is that they’ll have things ironed out before then.

Whatever the results, the Grangers will keep their heads up, and they’ll continue to give it their best, regardless of the outcome.

TROUP: Troup’s offense figured to be a dynamic force, and it has been.

Counting the preseason game against Hardaway, Troup has scored 108 points in three games, and that number would be considerably higher if head coach Tanner Glisson hadn’t made the decision to sit the starters for the second half of the Kendrick game.

With senior quarterback Montez Crowe pulling the trigger, the Tigers have been making defenses look silly.

Crowe has thrown for more than 600 yards in six quarters, and he has five touchdown passes, including one that covered 95 yards to Mark-Anthony Dixon against Kendrick.

Crowe is playing that game at a remarkably-high level right now.

Kobe Hudson and Jamari Thrash have two touchdown catches apiece, and Ja’Rell Smith and tight end Kenly Bridwell have caught their share of passes.

The Tigers do most of their damage through the air, but the running game has been effective as well, and Tyree Carlisle and Trey Williams had scoring runs against Kendrick.

An offensive line that was a question mark coming into the season has been up to the challenge, giving Crowe plenty of time to sit in the pocket and pick opposing defensive backfields apart.

The Tigers have so many different ways to beat you, and offensive coordinator Kelby Holt does an excellent job of putting the players in the best possible position to succeed.

Troup’s defense, which was staggered a bit in the opener against Hardaway, bounced back nicely against Kendrick.

In the first half when the starters were on the field, Troup’s defense didn’t allow a point.

The Cherokees nearly scored on their first possession, but the Tigers made a big stop on fourth down at the 5-yard line.

For the rest of the first half, Kendrick’s offense was stymied.

The Cherokees are not an elite team, but they do have some play-makers on offense, so it was an encouraging outing by the Tigers’ defense.

If the defense continues to make strides, this has the makings of a special season.

LAFAYETTE CHRISTIAN: The Cougars have been in this situation before.

They’ve started seasons slowly before, only to recover and be one of the last teams standing in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association state playoffs.

The Cougars are hoping history repeats itself this year.

With last week’s 44-38 loss to New Creation, Lafayette Christian is 0-2, and it will look for a breakthrough win this week against region foe Hearts Academy.

A bright spot for the Cougars has been the performance of the running game, with quarterback Landon Whitley and running back Jacob Lueken each putting up big numbers.

The two have combined for more than 400 rushing yards in two games.

The Cougars have struggled a bit slowing down opposing defenses, and that has no doubt been a key focus in practice this week.

I expect the Cougars to start putting some wins on the board, and when playoff time rolls around, don’t be surprised if they’re in the championship mix once again.