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Another test for Grangers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

The grind continues.

The LaGrange Grangers have faced a daunting schedule this season, and that won’t change with tonight’s showdown against the Troup Tigers.

It will be LaGrange’s second consecutive game against an unbeaten team.

Last week, LaGrange went on the road and lost to Cartersville 45-7.

Now, LaGrange will turn around and play a Troup team that features one of the most dynamic offenses in the state.

The Tigers are scoring 43 points per game, and they’re averaging more yards per game than any team in the state, regardless of classification.

Troup also has a stout defense that has limited opponents to 14 points per game.

That’s what is facing LaGrange (1-5 overall), which fell to 0-3 in Region 5-AAAA with the loss to Cartersville.

While it has been tough going for LaGrange, the team still has plenty to play for.

If the Grangers could pull off the win tonight, head coach Chuck Gibbs figures his team would have a chance to close the season on a four-game winning streak.

After today, LaGrange finishes the regular season with home games against Sandy Creek, Chapel Hill and Shaw.

“I told the (players), if you want to go 5-5 and make the playoffs, win tomorrow night and you’re in, because you’ll win the next three,” Gibbs said.

Before the Cartersville game, one constant for LaGrange had been a lock-down defense.

Through the halfway point of the regular season, LaGrange hadn’t given up more than 14 points in a game.

The story was a different one in the first half of the Cartersville game, though.

The Purple Hurricanes scored on each of their first-half possessions to take a 31-0 lead.

“They did everything we practiced against,” Gibbs said. “If we’d have played that way against Callaway, Heard or Cedartown, those teams would have scored 35 points. The defense was flat. The tackling was bad, the reads were bad. Kids were not lined up right.”

The story was a different one in the second half.

Cartersville scored two touchdowns in the second half, and only one came against LaGrange’s first-team defense.

LaGrange’s touchdown came when senior safety Vondez Taylor picked off a pass near midfield and went the distance for the score.

“Our second-half defense was the defense we thought we’d have the whole game,” Gibbs said.

While LaGrange’s offense was held scoreless, Gibbs was encouraged with what he saw on that side of the ball, with quarterback Charles Crawford under center once again.

“We did better against Cartersville,” Gibbs said. “We had probably 11 or 12 first downs. Nothing to write home about, but it’s progress. We’re such a young offensive team. I think we only had two senior starters on offense.”

Gibbs’ hope for today is that the defense plays like it did in the second half of the Cartersville game, and that the offense puts some drives together and finds some success.

LaGrange’s defense was allowing less than 10 points per game before struggling against Cartersville.

It’s a defense that features three outstanding linebackers, Dexter Fitzpatrick, Qua Bowles and Andraka Martin, who are on pace for more than 100 tackles.

Senior defensive back Jakoby Smith, who had two interceptions in last year’s game against Troup, is also having a big season.

Offensively, the Grangers will rely on Crawford, talented wide receivers Jordan Ogletree and Kayo Bradfield, and a handful of running backs to get it done.

LaGrange also has a standout punter in Wesley Kuhn, and a number of place kickers who have shown the ability to put the ball through the uprights.

All of those players will likely need to be at their best for LaGrange to have a chance to come away with the win today.

“I don’t know if we’re going to turn the corner, but I said to the guys, this would be a really good time to do it,” Gibbs said.