Grangers eye breakthrough win

Published 4:22 pm Thursday, August 31, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – It doesn’t get any easier.

Last week, the LaGrange Grangers took on an improved Villa Rica team that has made tremendous strides under first-year head coach Rico Zachery and lost 50-0.

That loss came on the heels of a season-opening, 26-0 setback to the Callaway Cavaliers, who are ranked second in Class AA.

As LaGrange looks to get its season on track, it faces another monumental challenge today, with the Griffin Bears set to visit Callaway Stadium for a 7 p.m. kickoff.

Griffin, which went 11-2 last season after winning a state championship in 2015, opened its season with a 36-7 victory over Spalding County.

Griffin is the seventh-ranked team in Class AAAAA.

Considering the Grangers have been outscored 76-0 in their two games combined, there’s plenty to work on, and head coach Dialleo Burks said it has been back to basics this week.

“I told them last week that we’re too patchy,” Burks said. “We’ve got to put everything together. We’ve got to be consistent. That’s how you play into late November or December. So we took the pads off, and we just wanted to stress running to the ball, running on and off the field, getting lined up correctly, working on the fundamentals of the game.”

Things spiraled out of control quickly against Villa Rica.

The Grangers were unable to get anything going offensively, while the Wildcats used some advantageous field position to take a 20-0 lead after the first quarter, and they were ahead 41-0 at the half.

On the Grangers’ first possession, they were hit with a penalty on third-and-eight, and they ended up punting after an incomplete pass.

Burks said that was the start of a disturbing trend.

“The six penalties in the first eight minutes of the game put us behind the eight ball big-time with field position,” Burks said. “And they capitalized off every single one of them. That’s tough to come back from. You’re dealing with an inexperienced team, and you’re asking them to come back from 35 points.”

Villa Rica returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown, and it capped the scoring with a blocked punt for a safety.

Even in a 50-0 loss, Burks said there were bright spots.

“You’re just hoping that they come out and give you something positive, which we did defensively,” Burks said. “They didn’t score at all in the second half on our defense. They scored on special teams. So we’re getting there. The light’s going to come on.”

On the heels of two tough losses, Burks said he’s aware of the emotional challenge the players may be facing.

“We understand that they’re kids,” Burks said. “We just had a group meeting, and we just talked it all out and said we’re in this thing together, and parents too. We don’t need to stretch each other in different directions when we’re trying to get to the same place.”

LaGrange still has two more games to play before it opens its Region 5-AAAA schedule on Sept. 22 against Central-Carroll.

“You want to focus on winning every game, but region play is where the meat is,” Burks said. “If we can get to region, we’ll get our linemen back, and a couple more pieces. That’s when the rubber hits the road.”

OF NOTE: It will be military-appreciation night at Callaway Stadium. A ceremony will be held before the game to honor veterans, as well as those currently serving in the military.