Grangers hang tough in loss
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The made ‘em work for it.
The Heard County Braves, who are ranked as high as second in Class AA in some state polls, found themselves fighting for their lives late in Friday’s game against the LaGrange Grangers at Callaway Stadium.
After the Braves turned the ball over late in their own territory after a botched punt attempt, the Grangers got within seven points on a 27-yard field goal by Matt Rainey.
The Grangers needed to recover an onside kick to keep hope alive, but the Braves got the ball, and they were able to run out the clock and preserve the 10-3 victory.
It was a losing night for the Grangers, but they hung tough with one of the state’s elite teams and had an opportunity to win until the closing moments.
That the Grangers were in that position was due largely to the performance of a defense that was suffocating.
The Braves went up 10-0 on a 54-yard touchdown run by Aaron Beasley as the first quarter ended, but they didn’t sniff the end zone after that.
Senior linebacker Dexter Fitzpatrick, who had a phenomenal night, said the game was about making a statement, about letting people know it’s not the same LaGrange team that went winless a year ago.
“I came into this game to prove a point,” Fitzpatrick said. “I feel like as a team, we all did. We didn’t give up a single point in the second half. We started off kind of slow, but once the energy got going, we came together as a team.”
It was the regular-season debut for LaGrange under the direction of new head coach Chuck Gibbs, and he said the goal now is to build on Friday’s performance and keep getting better.
“It’s about us,” Gibbs said. “There’s not another team in the state of Georgia that matters to me right now. All these boys that our wearing Granger blue, we’ve got to get them better.”
Gibbs added that “teams will know that we’re back, and they’re going to have to earn their victories this year. Now we’ve got to piece everything together.”
The Braves dominated the first quarter, moving the ball well on offense while forcing two three-and-outs on defense.
On its opening possession, Heard County drove from its own 15-yard line to the LaGrange 6-yard line before settling for a Kearney Balat 28-yard field goal with 3:13 left in the first quarter.
Beasley, Heard County’s outstanding running back who has committed to Tennessee, carried the ball seven times for 67 yards on the drive.
The Braves’ second possession began at their own 46-yard line, and they needed one play to pad their lead.
Beasley took a handoff from quarterback Alijah Huzzie, and he beat LaGrange’s defense for a 54-yard touchdown run, and the extra point gave Heard County a 10-0 lead.
From there, it was all about defense, with neither offense able to establish anything.
LaGrange also got a big lift from punter Wesley Kuhn, who mad a monster night and continually pinned Heard County deep.
The Grangers did pick up a pair of first downs late in the first half on runs by Laracco Glaze, but they went backward after getting close to midfield and had to punt.
In the second half, LaGrange’s defense yielded almost nothing, with Heard County managing just two first downs.
On the Braves’ first possession of the second half, Fitzpatrick and fellow linebacker Jequavious Bowles made a third-down stop to force a punt.
In the fourth quarter, Bowles tackled Beasley in the backfield to put the Braves in a second-and-long situation, and Fitzpatrick recovered a fumble two plays later.
The Grangers couldn’t take advantage of that break and had to punt, but the defense was up to the challenge once again.
Fitzpatrick made a tackle in the backfield on third down, putting the Braves in a punting situation.
The snap got past the punter, and he fell on the ball at his own 6-yard line.
The Grangers ran three plays and lost three yards, and Rainey came in and knocked the ball through the uprights for a 27-yard field goal with 1:35 to play.
The Grangers were out of timeouts, so they had to get the onside kick, but they were unable to make it happen. Heard County ran three plays, and time ran out.
LaGrange is off next week, and it will take on the Callaway Cavaliers on Aug. 31.
OF NOTE: For more photos, check out Facebook.com/LDNSports