Tigers aim for playoff success
Published 10:26 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2017
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – They’ve accomplished so much over the past two seasons.
The Troup Tigers have strung together back-to-back eight-win regular seasons, making this one of the best two-year stretches in the history of the program.
There’s one thing this group of players has yet to accomplish, though, and that’s to win a state-playoff game.
Troup will try to rectify that situation when it travels to Ringgold on Friday to face Heritage-Catoosa in the opening round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
Troup (8-2) is the number three team from Region 5-AAAA, while Heritage (9-1) is the runner-up from Region 6-AAAA.
“It would be really big to get that monkey off our back and win (a playoff game),” said Tanner Glisson, Troup’s third-year head coach. “And it’s going to be tough. We’re going to their place, and they’re hosting for the first time I think in school history. So their fans are excited. And we’re not sure what the weather’s going to do yet, so that’s a big concern. But this time of year, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
That Troup is a candidate to make an extended playoff run is a testament to how far the program has come in a short time.
In 2015, Glisson’s first year at the helm, Troup lost its first nine games before beating Whitewater to avoid a winless season.
Troup turned it around a year ago, going 8-2 in the regular season before falling to West Hall in the first round of the playoffs.
While Troup’s program figures to continue to thrive next season with most of the key players set to return, Glisson said no one is thinking about 2018.
“The future’s right now,” Glisson said. “We were disappointed last year (in losing to West Hall), because of this right here. Right now, it’s sitting in our hands one more time, so now what are we going to do about it?”
Glisson said he and the other coaches have stressed to the players to not give any thought to what happens beyond this year.
“You never know,” Glisson said. “You get an injury, you get a bad draw. You have to embrace it. Everybody wants to talk about how good you’ll be next year, and you feel you should be, but you’ve got to embrace it now. You have to seize it.”
Some of the current seniors were starters on that 2015 team, so they know what it was like to nearly go winless.
Center Seth Adams, one of those seniors, said the bond formed during the 2015 season has helped make everyone stronger.
“We all went through the bad times together,” Adams said. “We all knew we didn’t want to be there again.”
As was the case a year ago, Troup heads into the playoffs on the heels of a loss to Cartersville.
The situation is a bit different this year, though.
In 2016, Troup was never in the game, and it lost to Cartersville 68-0.
While Troup was on the wrong end of a lop-sided score once again this year, the way things played out was not the same.
Trailing 31-6 at the half, the Tigers scored a touchdown to get within 18, and they had the ball back with a chance to get even closer.
An interception in the end zone thwarted Troup’s scoring chance, and Cartersville was able to pull away.
Troup was hurt by six turnovers, most of which led to Cartersville touchdowns.
Still, Troup at least proved that it had what it took to go toe-to-toe with arguably the best team in the state, regardless of classification.
Cartersville has won 40 straight games, and it is going for a third straight state championship.
“I thought in some areas, we matched them,” Glisson said. “Of course we didn’t in the turnover battle. But we’re kind of past the point of moral victories. We’re looking to come play, and every time we get on the field we feel like we’ve got a chance. But there were a lot of bright spots. I thought we did some really good things scheme-wise that gave them some issues.”
Troup’s other regular-season loss came to Cedartown.
The Tigers won their first seven games, but they ended up losing 21-18, and that setback ultimately cost them a chance to finish second in the region and host a playoff game.
Nonetheless, Troup heads into the playoffs with confidence with an offense that can score on any play and a defense that has found its form.
Offensively, it begins with Montez Crowe, who has been one of the state’s top quarterbacks this season.
Crowe has more than 3,200 passing yards in 10 games with 35 touchdowns.
Crowe did throw four interceptions against Cartersville, but he has nonetheless had a remarkable season.
“He has 3,300 yards and 35 touchdowns,” Glisson said. “Let’s go with him. He can be in a foxhole with me anytime.”
Jamari Thrash has 45 catches for 1,105 yards with 13 touchdowns, making him one of the most productive wide receivers in the state.
Kobe Hudson has also been getting it done with 35 catches for 742 yards with 12 touchdowns.
Ja’Rell Smith has 18 catches for 281 yards, Mark-Anthony Dixon has 16 catches for 438 yards, and tight end Kenly Bridwell has 24 receptions for 390 yards.
In the running game, Tyree Carlisle leads the way with 70 carries for 385 yards, and he has also caught 17 passes for 287 yards.
Defensively, Glisson feels the team has made tremendous progress as the season has gone along.
“I’ve been thinking for a while now that our defense has been hitting its stride,” Glisson said. “If we came take another step this week, and keep stepping forward, we can actually have a pretty good defense before this thing is over.”
Linebacker Joko Willis has 97 tackles to lead the team, and fellow linebackers Kevin Martin Jatavian Smith have 76 and 66 tackles, respectively.
Willis also has five sacks and three forced fumbles.
Among the defensive linemen, King Mwikuta leads the way with 42 tackles, and he’s tops on the team with seven sacks.
Defensive lineman Andy Boykin has 30 tackles with three sacks, and senior defensive back MaCenta Stafford has 53 tackles.
In the special-teams department, Carson Wreyford handles the place-kicking and punting duties for Troup, and he has been terrific in both roles.
Troup’s defense will try to slow down a Heritage offense that has been putting up big numbers.
Heritage, which closed the regular season with a 49-21 win over Pickens County last week that wrapped up the number two seed, averages 47 points per game.
Senior Blake Bryan headlines Heritage’s offense.
Bryan has completed 115-of-172 passes for 1,778 yards with 27 touchdowns, and he has also run for 311 yards with five touchdowns.
Luke Grant has 53 catches for 960 yards with 15 touchdowns, and Ryan Carter has 31 receptions for 488 yards and eight touchdowns.
In the ground game, Jeffrey Curtis has 62 carries for 410 yards with six touchdowns.
It’s a game that features two talented, capable teams, but only one of them will still be standing around 10 p.m. on Friday.
“It’s a good time of the year,” Glisson said. “You can smell it. There’s a little bit of urgency, so we’re excited about it.”