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Tough test for short-handed Grangers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It’ll be a challenging Thursday-night test for the LaGrange Grangers.

LaGrange (1-3), which will be without seven players who were suspended following last week’s game against Central-Carroll, will host the Cedartown Bulldogs (2-3) today in a Region 5-AAAA showdown.

While LaGrange began its region schedule with a 13-10 loss to Central-Carroll last week, Cedartown came within a whisker of pulling off a massive upset of Cartersville before losing 21-20.

At full strength, it would be a tough game for the Grangers.

Considering how short-handed LaGrange will be, the game becomes that much more difficult.

The Grangers will not only be without the suspended players, but they’re also missing some men who are injured.

“We have to go play a great, athletic, strong, tough physical team. And you’re down seven roster spots,” said LaGrange’s first-year head coach, Chuck Gibbs. “And that’s on top of injuries. We’ll probably be short 10 varsity players. That’ll impact special teams, and who’s starting.”

Gibbs will rely on some players who are untested in varsity football, but have gotten playing time on a different level.

“Thank goodness we’ve played a robust sub-varsity schedule,” Gibbs said. “You want to (use them in) October, and we’re needing them at the end of September.”

Gibbs said today is an opportunity for some of those inexperienced players to show what they can do.

“There are silver linings everywhere. It’s an opportunity for the next man up,” Gibbs said. “I hope we can come out of it healthy. Then we’ll turn around and focus on the next one.”

The suspensions were the result of an incident that took place late in the first half of the Central-Carroll game.

After Central-Carroll scored a touchdown to take a 10-3 lead, it recovered an onside kick in LaGrange territory near the 40-yard line.

A fight ensued and players from both teams charged onto the field, and by the time calm was restored, seven total players, five from LaGrange and two from Central-Carroll, had been ejected.

On top of that, Central-Carroll ended up starting the possession inside the LaGrange 10-yard line because of penalty yardage.

That led to a field goal that gave Central-Carroll a 13-3 lead at the half.

In the second half, the Grangers got within three midway through the fourth quarter on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Charles Crawford to Jordan Ogletree.

The Grangers got the ball back with an opportunity to pull even with a field goal or take the lead with a touchdown, but they were unable to make it happen.

After the game, officials from the Georgia High School Association reviewed the game film, and additional suspensions were handed out.

LaGrange and Central-Carroll will both be playing without seven suspended players this week.

“It happened,” Gibbs said. “You just hope the kids can play with a little bit more pride, and a little bit more poise, and a little bit more selflessness. We’re a work in progress.”

Gibbs added that “in a perfect world, everyone on our sideline would have taken two steps back, and they would have trusted me and the coaching staff to make sure their teammates on the field were protected.”

Gibbs does understand the desire of the players to defend their teammates, though.

“It’s a brotherhood, and I get it,” Gibbs said.

The Grangers continued to get it done defensively.

LaGrange hasn’t given up more than 14 points in a game, and it has only allowed six points in the second half of its four games.

Heard County, Callaway and Central-Carroll were all held scoreless by LaGrange in the second half.

“Callaway scored the most on us, and they scored 14,” Gibbs said. “If we can hold teams to two or three scores or less, we’re a take-away, a special-teams play, away. We haven’t had a whole bunch of balls bounce in our direction.”

The Grangers are still trying to figure some things out on offense, having managed 21 points in four games.

LaGrange’s offense will try to find more success in today’s game, but that won’t be easy against a Cedartown defense coming off an impressive performance against Cartersville.

Cartersville had a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, but it fell behind 20-14 in the fourth quarter before winning it with a late touchdown.

“They were a phenomenal defensive team,” Gibbs said. “Cartersville did not have a lot of success with them running the ball, or through the air. Their secondary flies around, their linebackers are fast.”

Offensively, Cedartown will lean heavily on talented running backs Tony Mathis and Kobe Pryor, and the 6-foot-3 Tagi Hudson is a two-way threat at quarterback.

“It’ll be fun. It’ll be a challenge,” Gibbs said. “But that’s why you play the game, to see how your schemes will match up, and how well did we teach it this week.”

After this week’s game, the schedule doesn’t lighten up for the Grangers.

LaGrange’s next four opponents are Cartersville, Troup, Sandy Creek and Chapel Hill, who have two losses between them.

LAGRANGE VS. CEDARTOWN

WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Callaway Stadium

RECORDS: LaGrange (1-3 overall, 0-1 in Region 5-AAAA); Cedartown (2-3 overall, 0-1 in Region 5-AAAA)

LAST MEETING: Cedartown beat LaGrange 38-10 last season

COACHES: LaGrange – Chuck Gibbs; Cedartown – Doyle Kelley