Grangers happy to be in win column
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Following its breakthrough victory, the LaGrange Grangers are hoping to begin a streak of the winning variety.
With its 8-6 road win over Hampton on Sept. 7, LaGrange (1-2) ended a 17-game losing skid that dated back to the 2016 season.
Next week, LaGrange will look to start a winning streak when it visits Central-Carroll for the Region 5-AAAA opener for both teams.
LaGrange was off last week, while Central-Carroll (1-2) was in Franklin for a non-region game against Heard County.
When LaGrange arrived in Hampton, it hadn’t won a game since the fifth game of the 2016 season when it beat Central.
LaGrange built an 8-0 halftime lead against Hampton, and it held on late for an 8-6 win.
Hampton had the ball late, but LaGrange’s Qua Bowles came through with a game-clinching interception.
Bowles scored on the plate, but a LaGrange player was called for a penalty, negating the touchdown.
While Bowles was denied a touchdown on the play, his interception ended the suspense, and LaGrange ran one kneel-down play before the clock ran out.
First-year head coach Chuck Gibbs was pleased to see his team get a much-needed win, although he felt there shouldn’t have been any suspense toward the end.
“We felt like we were playing to their level,” Gibbs said. “You have a chance to step on a team’s throat, and we didn’t do it.”
The Grangers did enough to prevail, though, and that was critical considering it had been nearly two calendar years since they’d won a game.
While LaGrange only managed one touchdown, which came on a run by Laracco Glaze following a 46-yard punt return by Jakoby Smith to the 1-yard line, it had its best offensive effort of the season.
The Grangers had 242-yard rushing yards while averaging 6.2 yards per attempt, with Glaze leading the way with 77 yards on 11 carries.
Kale Kibbs had seven carries for 61 yards, Andre Canty had 41 yards on nine attempts, and quarterback Charles Crawford had four keepers for 24 yards.
“Rocco ran it really, really hard,” Gibbs said. “He got rolled up on his ankle and it wasn’t worth keeping him in. My younger guys went in and got reps and played.”
While Crawford only completed 4-of-13 pass attempts, he threw for 83 yards and didn’t have any interceptions.
Canty (35 yards), Jordan Ogletree (30 yards), Koby Patton (13 yards) and Mikal Younkins (five yards) each had one catch.
Gibbs was pleased to see the offense produce more big plays than it did in the previous two games.
“They’re starting to develop some of these explosive plays,” Gibbs said. “It’s a matter of time before the light switch goes on with some of these kids.”
For LaGrange’s defense, it was more of the same.
In the losses to Heard County and Callaway to begin the season, LaGrange’s defense was superb.
LaGrange’s defense was suffocating once again against Hampton, with a talented group of linebackers leading the way.
Bowles, who had the big interception at the end, led the way with 15 tackles, including three for loss.
Dexter Fitzpatrick, who is having a phenomenal senior season, had 14 tackles with two for loss.
Another member of the linebacker corps, Andraka Martin, had nine tackles with two for loss, and Jarno Huzzie had six tackles, with three of them begin the line of scrimmage.
Jakoby Smith had a 96-yard interception return at the close of the first half that kept Hampton from scoring and nearly gave the Grangers more points.
On special teams, Robert Thornton had a blocked punt in the first half, and the ball went out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
Wesley Kuhn, meanwhile, had four punts for a 45.3-yard average, and three of his kicks forced Hampton to begin a possession inside its own 20-yard line.
Jimmy Cancino continued to excel on kickoff returns, putting one into the end zone, and the other close to the goal line.
“The second-half kickoff was his first kickoff he hasn’t put 10 yards deep into the end zone,” Gibbs said.
LaGrange began the game a bit short-handed, with Gibbs choosing to hold some players out for disciplinary reasons.
For Gibbs, it was a message sent to those players, and to the entire team.
“We had eight kids we sat out in the first quarter, kids that were late, disciplinary issues, kids that didn’t show up for Labor Day practice,” Gibbs said. “And again, we felt that if you don’t discipline the kids, if you don’t stand behind them, you’re never going to change the culture. So we were struggling by having some of our starters out. We knew that was going to be a hurdle we’d have to get over.”
Last week, without a game coming up on Friday night, practices weren’t quite as long, and Gibbs made sure everyone was home earlier than usual.
“This week, we’re off by 6 p.m.,” Gibbs said. “I want the kids at home. I want the kids getting on their grades.”
It’ll be the last week without a game until the season is over.
The Grangers will play seven consecutive weeks to end the regular season, and if they finished fourth or higher in the region, they’ll have at least one playoff game.