Final chance for Grangers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They’re hoping to end a challenging season on a positive note.
The LaGrange Grangers, who fell to 1-8 with last week’s loss to Chapel Hill, will finish their season with Friday’s home game against the Shaw Raiders, and it will be senior night and homecoming.
Chuck Gibbs, LaGrange’s first-year head coach, said the team is approaching the game as if everything is on the line.
“Tomorrow night is the Super Bowl for us,” Gibbs said on Thursday afternoon before his team’s final practice of the season.
While it will be a critical off-season as the program looks to get things turned around, Gibbs stressed that no one is looking past the Shaw game.
“That won’t happen. Not on my watch,” Gibbs said. “Not on senior night. Not on homecoming. It’s the only chance we’ve got to win a home game for our seniors. The stakes are incredibly high.”
It’s been a tough season for Shaw as well.
The Raiders were 3-2 at the halfway point of the regular season, but they’ve dropped their past four games to fall out of playoff contention.
“We’re a better football than Shaw, but we were a better football team than Chapel Hill in my opinion,” Gibbs said. “You’ve got to play the game.”
While the results haven’t been there for the Grangers, they have been competitive in most of their games.
Three of LaGrange’s six Region 5-AAAA losses, in fact, were by a combined seven points.
LaGrange was looking to end its region schedule with a win over Chapel Hill, but that didn’t happen.
It was a 16-3 game at the half, and Chapel Hill scored three touchdowns in the third quarter on the way to a 37-3 victory.
“We feel like we’ve turned the corner, but man Chapel Hill was a huge step back,” Gibbs said.
Today’s game will mark the end of the road for the seniors, and Gibbs believes a number of them will have an opportunity to play college football.
Among that group is linebacker Dexter Fitzpatrick, who is one of the state’s leading tacklers.
One of the other seniors is wide receiver Jordan Ogletree, who has been LaGrange’s top offensive play-maker.
Ogletree had a pair of touchdown catches against Troup.
Those seniors haven’t enjoyed much success as high-school players, but Gibbs believes what they’ve gone through could help them down the road.
“For the kids that have faced adversity that they’ve faced this year, when they get away from here I think they’ll be better because of it,” Gibbs said.
When today’s game end, Gibbs will turn his focus to the 2019 season.
LaGrange has some talented under-classmen who’ll lead the way next year and beyond, and some of those players have been a part of a winning team this fall.
With Wednesday’s dramatic 8-2 victory over Central-Carroll, LaGrange’s junior-varsity and freshman teams finished with a combined record of 8-2.
“Those kids are 8-2 and they’ve been in close games, they’ve been in those fights, and they’ve been on the winning side of those fights,” Gibbs said.
In Wednesday’s game, Central-Carroll punted late in the game, and LaGrange drove 65 yards for the touchdown.
Kale Gibbs, the son of coach Gibbs, had the game-winning touchdown with less than 20 seconds remaining.
“We get the ball back and there’s 58 seconds left, and our kids expect to drive the ball down the field and score and win,” coach Gibbs said.
Gibbs was encouraged not just by the result, but by the attitude of the players.
“You see the kids on the sidelines, and it was positive, there was no negativity,” Gibbs said. “There was no me, me, me.”
LAGRANGE VS. SHAW
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Callaway Stadium
RECORDS: LaGrange (1-8); Shaw (3-6)