Troup taking on the champs

Published 12:29 pm Thursday, November 2, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – It’s a critical game and the stakes are high, but it’s not the end of the road.

No matter what happens on Friday night when the Troup Tigers play the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes, they’ll have another game to play the following week, and that one will be even more important.

Troup will be in the state playoffs regardless of what happens against Cartersville, so the players will have to quickly turn the page.

A year ago, Troup lost to Cartersville in the final game of the regular season before falling to West Hall in the opening round of the state playoffs.

“We’re just getting started,” said Tanner Glisson, Troup’s third-year head coach. “We’re getting into that second season. I think it’s important to move it forward, to be better than we were last year. We have a better football team, we just need the record to show it. So we’re kind of sitting in the same predicament that we were this time last year. So win or lose, we’ll have to move on quickly after the game. We’ve got to figure out who we’re playing, where we’re going.”

Troup (8-1 overall) brings a 4-1 Region 5-AAAA record into the game, while Cartersville (9-0) is 5-0 in the region.

Cedartown (8-1) is tied with Troup at 4-1 in the region, although it owns the tie-breaker edge because of the head-to-head win.

Troup would at worst finish tied for first in the region if it beats Cartersville, but that’s a tall task.

Cartersville has won 39 consecutive games, with its most recent loss coming to Buford in the 2014 state-championship game.

Cartersville went unbeaten in 2015 and 2016, and it has yet to lose this season.

Outside of a 52-45 win over Bartram Trail (Fla.), in fact, Cartersville hasn’t been tested.

In region play, Cartersville has outscored its five opponents 277-13.

It’s a veteran team led by one of the country’s top quarterbacks, Trevor Lawrence, who has started every game of his high-school career.

Troup has also had a big season.

The Tigers have won eight games for the second straight season, and they boast one of the state’s top offenses led by quarterback Montez Crowe.

It’s a program that has come a long way in a short period of time.

In 2015, Glisson’s first year as head coach, Troup lost its first nine games before beating Whitewater in the season finale.

“We feel like we’ve got a good football team,” Glisson said. “Obviously it’s a big mountain to climb, but it’s good to be in these kind of ballgames, these kinds of situations. A few years ago, we would have died to be in this situation.”

A year ago, Troup headed into the Cartersville game on an eight-game winning streak.

The game started poorly and Troup never recovered on the way to a 68-0 loss.

“I think we were a little tense last year,” Glisson said. “On the third play of the game, we dropped a ball and they picked it up and scored. Then we go three-and-out, and they return a punt to the 15-yard line and score again. So it’s 14-0 before we could even catch our breath. That’s disheartening. So we’ve got to clean those things up.”

Troup has one blemish on its record this season.

After opening with seven straight wins, Troup dropped a 21-18 decision to Cedartown on the road.

Troup bounced back to beat Central-Carroll 35-14 last week to reach eight wins for the second straight regular season.

Now, Troup is set to play in one of the biggest games in the state this week, and Glisson is pleased to see the program in that position.

“I’m just glad Troup is relevant to the point where people talk about us, and people come out and watch us play,” Glisson said. “So we’re excited about it.”

Many of the players who were on the field for the Cartersville game a year ago are back, including Crowe, who averages 323 passing yards per game with 33 touchdowns.

Jamari Thrash and Kobe Hudson have combined for more than 70 catches and 24 touchdowns, and Mark-Anthony Dixon, Kenly Bridwell and Ja’Rell Smith each has multiple scoring catches.

Tyree Carlisle, Trey Williams and Jackson Davis have combined to run for nearly 1,000 yards between them, and Carlisle has seven touchdown runs.

Troup’s offensive line has been solid.

Seth Adams, Colby Harry, Riley Bowles, Hunter Bass and Michael Irvin got most of the snaps last week, while usual starter Gabe Hubbard was unable to go because of an injury.

While Troup’s calling card is its high-octane offense, the defense has gotten the job done as well.

Against Central, Troup’s defense allowed just one touchdowns.

Junior Joko Willis was moved from linebacker to defensive end, and be made a massive impact with 10 solo tackles and four assists.

Glisson said Detrick Tucker also shined in that game with close to 10 tackles, and senior Macenta Stafford played well after moving from linebacker to defensive back.

“After that Cedartown game, we moved some people to different spots, and I think that’s what you’ve got to do to try to move it forward and get better,” Glisson said.

As for Cartersville, Trevor Lawrence is the headliner.

In Cartersville’s most recent game, Lawrence became the state’s all-time leader in passing yards, surpassing Deshaun Watson.

Lawrence has thrown 34 touchdown passes and just one interception, and that came in the opening game.

Six Cartersville players are in double digits in receptions, including T.J. Horton, who has 42 catches for 586 yards with nine touchdowns.

EJ Turner and Rico Frye both have 22 catches.

It’s a massive challenge, and Glisson said the idea is to “just come out and play loose, and go get ‘em, and see how we match up.”