Troup ready for home showdown

Published 10:32 pm Thursday, September 28, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – By the time the Troup Tigers arrived in Tyrone for last year’s game against Sandy Creek, they’d already proven they were a different team.

The 2015 season was a tough one for the Tigers, who lost their first nine games before beating Whitewater to finish 1-9.

After dropping the first game of the 2016 season, Troup ripped off four straight wins, so any questions about the team’s ability to bounce back from the difficulties of the previous year had been swept aside.

Was Troup prepared to compete with, and possibly beat a team of Sandy Creek’s caliber, though?

Troup answered that question in resounding fashion by dominating the second half on the way to a 28-20 victory over a Sandy Creek team unaccustomed to losing, especially on its home field.

That was part of an eight-game winning streak for Troup, which finished second in Region 5-AAAA after losing to Cartersville in the regular-season finale.

Flash forward a year, and Troup and Sandy Creek are ready to clash once again, and this time the game will be at Callaway Stadium.

Troup once again comes into the game riding high, sporting a 5-0 record after beating Chapel Hill 48-12 in its region opener next week.

Sandy Creek, which hasn’t played a region game, is 3-1, with its lone loss coming to Class AAAAAA powerhouse Starr’s Mill.

“Last year, we had to convince the kids we could go in there and win,” Troup head coach Tanner Glisson said. “We had never beaten Sandy Creek. So I’m not sure the kids thought that we could win. But as the game went on, they got more and more confidence, and we just kind of had them on the ropes. They had a really good football team, and I’m sure they’ll be ready to make that right this year.”

Troup had never beaten Sandy Creek before last year’s game, and it was one of the biggest regular-season wins in school history.

“That was great beating them last year,” said senior linebacker MaCenta Stafford, who played a large role in last year’s win. “I believe we were 0-6 before we beat them. They’re going to give us their best shot, but we’ll be ready.”

Sandy Creek has been one of the state’s elite programs for the past 10 years or so, with Chip Walker leading the team to state championships in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

Walker left following the 2016 season to take over the Newnan program, and long-time Sandy Creek assistant Brett Garvin was promoted to the head-coaching position.

It’ll be strength vs. strength.

Troup’s offense is one of the best in the state, while Sandy Creek features a suffocating defense that has given up 38 points in four games with a pair of shutouts.

Sandy Creek’s defense will be confronted with a Troup offense that has been soaring.

With quarterback Montez Crowe throwing for as many yards as any quarterback in the state regardless of classification, Troup has been unstoppable.

Crowe, a 6-foot-5 senior with a strong and accurate arm, has completed 82-of-123 passes for 1,680 yards, and he has 16 touchdowns.

Those numbers would be respectable over a 10-game stretch, and Crowe has made it happen in five games.

Six different players have caught at least 10 passes, and Crowe has an offensive line that gives him time to sit back and survey the defense.

“It’s excellent for a quarterback to know you’ve got a line up front that can block for you, and you’ve got receivers you can throw to and they can catch it and take it the distance,” Crowe said.

Crowe’s favorite target has been Jamari Trash, who has 21 catches for 564 yards with six touchdowns.

Kobe Hudson, who had nine touchdown catches as a freshman, has 10 receptions this year for 219 yards with five touchdowns.

Jarell Smith has 14 catches for 214 yards with a touchdown, and Mark-Anthony Dixon has 12 receptions for 340 yards with two touchdowns.

Tight end Kenly Bridwell has 12 catches for 177 yards with a touchdown, and running back Tyree Carlisle has 12 receptoins for 201 yards with a touchdown.

Carlisle is Troup’s leading rusher with 203 yards on 36 carries, and he has five touchdowns on the ground.

Leading the way is an offensive line that has come together to become a strength of the team.

That group includes Hunter Bass, Colby Harry, Jay Brodie Messer, Seth Adams, Gabe Hubbard and Michael Irvin.

Troup’s defense has been getting it done as well, holding its past four opponents to a total of 36 points after allowing 28 points in the opener against Hardaway.

“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,” Troup defensive coordinator Tripp 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.”

Troup also has an exceptional place kicker and punter in Carson Wreyford, although he has been mostly used for extra points since the offense usually scores touchdowns.

Sandy Creek relies on a stingy defense, as well as a balanced offense to get it done.

Troup will likely get a steady dose of senior running back Jordan Clark.

Clark hasn’t run for fewer than 105 yards in a game this season, and he has a total of 520 yards on 83 carries with seven touchdowns.

Sandy Creek can also get it done with the pass.

Sophomore quarterback Matthew Williams has been solid, completing 41-of-63 passes for 697 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

Williams’ best game came against Morrow when he completed 17-of-22 passes for 215 yards.

It’s a straight-forward offense that relies heavily on a power running game.

“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.”

This will be one of the biggest games in the state today, which is a tremendous testament to how far the Troup program has come.

Two years ago, the Tigers were wondering if they’d win a game, and now they’re looking to stake their claim as one of the top Class AAAA teams in the state.

“It’ll be fun,” Glisson said. “It ought to be one of the better games that Troup’s been involved in in some time.”

As important as the game is, though, Troup will still have plenty of work to do afterward.

Troup plays in one of the best regions in the state, and it ends the regular season against Cartersville, which is going for a third straight state championship.

“We’re just trying to be consistent with our habits, and you can’t make the game bigger than what it is,” Glisson said. “We just have to go out there and execute and do our thing.”

Glisson believes the program has reached the point where the team is able to approach each game with the same level of intensity.

“We’ve kind of made that the standard around here,” Glisson said. “We don’t get too high, we don’t get too low. Every game’s important.”

There is no denying there’s a little something special about this game, though, especially since it’ll be played at what should be a packed Callaway Stadium.

“It’s going to be great out there,” Troup junior linebacker Nick Ligon said. “We’re looking forward to it. They thought we were a fluke last year, so we’ve got to come back and show them that it wasn’t an accident.”