Defense shines for unbeaten Tigers

Published 10:35 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – A high-flying, explosive offense is a big part of the story for the Troup Tigers.

The Tigers are scoring more than 40 points per game, and that’s a key reason why they’ll bring a 5-0 record into Friday’s Region 5-AAAA showdown with the Sandy Creek Patriots.

There’s more to the team than just an electrifying offense, though.

While the defense struggled a bit in the early going, that part of the team has become a strength.

In their past four games, the Tigers have given up a total of 36 points, and that was after allowing 28 points in the season opener against the Hardaway Hawks.

Last week, Troup limited Chapel Hill to a season-low 12 points, and the starting defense didn’t allow any points in wins over Kendrick and Bowdon.

Tripp Busby, who has taken over as Callaway’s defensive coordinator this season following the departure of Micah Alba after the 2016 season, said everyone on that side of the ball is doing their job.

“Ever since that Hardaway game, we settled in, and everybody’s kind of gotten on the same page as far as what we’re supposed to,” Busby said. “Everybody’s doing a better job tackling, and we’re continuing to improve. And we haven’t reached our peak yet. That’s good.”

Busby added that “we make it as simple as we can. From week to week, we may tweak things, but it’s all basically the same concept.”

Junior Nick Ligon, who has been a starting linebacker the past two seasons, said “we’re getting better every week. I think everybody’s just learning the game. Everybody’s paying attention in practice.”

It’s a balanced defense, with strength up front and some talented players on the back end.

The defensive line features a pair of players who have received plenty of attention from college programs, junior King Mwikuta and sophomore Andy Boykin, and Kaliff Thornton has excelled up front as well.

Mwikuta had three sacks in the season opener against Hardaway.

“King and Boykin, and even Kaliff, they all have one year at the most as far as playing time,” Busby said.

Boykin is in his first season at Troup after transferring from LaGrange where he was a tight end.

“He was absent from our weight program for our freshman year, so he’s still trying to catch up,” Busby said.

The linebacker position is a strength for the Tigers.

Ligon is one of the defense’s standout performers from his outside linebacker position, and head coach Tanner Glisson calls him “our bell cow. He’s the one that likes to throw his body around and everybody rallies around him.”

One of the few seniors on the defense, MaCenta Stafford, is also an outside linebacker, and he brings experience and talent to the field.

Stafford missed the final few games of the 2016 season with an injury, and that was a massive loss for the defense.

“MaCenta’s come back from such a devastating injury last year,” Busby said. “He was leading us in tackles. Having him back, it’s made us stronger.”

As strong as the defense has been of late, Stafford said no one is satisfied.

“We can always get better,” he said. “We’re still not where we want to be. We’ve still got more and more to achieve.”

Detrick Tucker, another senior, has also been a solid player at outside linebacker.

Kevin Martin, who had 105 tackles a year ago, is an inside linebacker along with Joko Willis and Jatavian Smith.

“All three of them I can rotate them, and I do it regularly from series to series,” Busby said. “All three of them can play the position, and it’s great to be able to have a semi-fresh group.”

In the defensive secondary, Alonzo Ogletree, Dwight Gates and Manderious Dix have helped hold things down.

Troup’s defense will be tested against a strong Sandy Creek offense that will look to get it done with a pound-it-out offense heavy on the power running back.

“It’ll be a tough test this week,” Glisson said. “They’ll be very, very physical, and we’ll see if we’re tough enough, if we’re man enough to play them. We’ll battle it out.”