Massive challenge for Grangers

Published 1:12 pm Thursday, October 5, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – Embrace the opportunity.

That’s LaGrange head coach Dialleo Burks’ message to his players as they prepare to face a powerful Cartersville team that hasn’t lost a game since 2014.

Cartersville, which is led by Clemson-bound quarterback Trevor Lawrence, has won back-to-back state championships while winning 36 straight games, and it is 6-0 this year.

For LaGrange, it’s been a struggle.

With last week’s 38-10 loss to Cedartown, LaGrange is 0-6, and it has been outscored 219-26.

While the odds are obviously long for the Grangers, Burks stressed to the players that Friday’s game gives them a chance to shine

on a big stage, with numerous college coaches and scouts expected to be in attendance at Callaway Stadium.

“You’re looking at the number one team in the state,” Burks said. “They’re ranked in the nation. It’s a wonderful opportunity, it’s a big stage for them with Trevor Lawrence and the attention that he’s bringing. As a player who wants to get to the next level, you’ve got all the eyes on you. What a wonderful opportunity to go out and display what you’ve got in front of a lot of people.”

Under head coach Joey King, Cartersville has established itself as one of the state’s elite programs.

Cartersville went 12-2 and lost to Buford in the state semifinals in 2014, and it went 15-0 the past two seasons.

It helps to have one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

Before the season is over, the 6-foot-5 Lawrence will almost surely pass Deshaun Watson as the state’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns.

With four games still to play in the regular season, Lawrence has thrown for 12,447 yards and 140 touchdowns.

This season, Lawrence has completed 91-of-128 passes for 1,848 yards and 20 touchdowns against one interception.

In last week’s 55-6 win over Central-Carroll, Lawrence was 16-of-23 for 308 yards with five touchdowns.

Lawrence’s favorite target is T.J. Horton, who had six catches for 111 yards last week.

For LaGrange, it has been a struggle, particularly on offense.

The Grangers haven’t scored more than 10 points in a game, and they’ve been shut out three times.

LaGrange did get its ground game going in last week’s 38-10 loss to Cedartown, with Cornell Kendrick running for 112 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown.

The Grangers were down 35-0 in the second quarter when they came to life.

Kendrick scored on a 3-yard run, and Matt Rainey made a 37-yard field goal to cut Cedartown’s lead to 35-10 at the half.

A field goal by Cedartown accounted for the only scoring in the second half.

“We came out slow in every phase of the game,” Burks said. “The second quarter, that was probably our best quarter of the year. Those guys were energetic, they were passionate, they were playing hard. It was something to watch and be a part of. It was fun to be a part of. Now we need to do that for four quarters.”

Linebacker Daz Williams had six tackles, including a sack, and linebacker Vondez Taylor and defensive back Dezhaun Artis each had six tackles.

Dexter Fitzpatrick had five tackles, and Chris Watson, Jakoby Smith and Jadon Thornton each had four.

While committed to making the most of this season, Burks is keeping an eye on the future as well, and he’s excited about the prospects.

Most of the players who are contributing this season will return next year, and Burks believes that experience will be invaluable.

“We understand what we’re playing with, who we’re playing with,” Burks said. “Obviously we’ll have a lot of guys that’ll be back in the fold, and we’re getting a lot of guys experience. We’ve got a lot of guys playing. That means a lot. We’re just waiting on it to click.”

That doesn’t mean the Grangers aren’t going to do everything they can to build some positive memories from this season, though.

“Let’s finish it out,” Burks said. “We’re guaranteed four more games. After that, you don’t know. You want to make the best out of every opportunity that you get right now. And eyes are watching. You never know which play, or which game will be the turning point to propel you to the next level. That’s the motivation in itself to get better.”

While the wins haven’t come, Burks has no questions about the effort the players have given.

“In order to get where we want to get to, you’ve got to understand the essence of our guys in every form or fashion,” Burks said. “It’s definitely a true test of their character, and who they are. You’re talking about building something. You want to know you’re building something with some solid material. And that’s what those guys are giving us right now. They’re proving that they’re solid. Every day they come through those doors, they say coach I’m here. What do we need to do with me?”