Grangers hope to finish strong
Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, October 30, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
A challenging season has hit the home stretch for the LaGrange Grangers.
LaGrange, which has endured a series of critical injuries this season, will complete its Region 5-AAAA schedule with Friday’s game at Chapel Hill.
LaGrange finishes its season with a home game against Shaw on Nov. 7.
While LaGrange is playing for pride, Chapel Hill still has an opportunity to earn one of the region’s four playoff spots.
LaGrange (2-6 overall) is 0-5 in the region, and it has been eliminated from playoff contention.
Chapel Hill (4-4 overall) is 1-3 in the region, and it would remain in the playoff chase with a victory over LaGrange.
LaGrange is attempting to win its first region game since it opened its 2016 region schedule with a win over Central-Carroll.
“Chapel Hill’s a talented team,” said Chuck Gibbs, LaGrange’s second-year head coach. “I know they took Troup to the wire, they took Central to the wire and won. They played Sandy Creek relatively tough. They put up 24 points against Sandy Creek. That’s the second-most anybody’s put up on Sandy Creek, only behind Cartersville. They’re a really talented football team, as is every team on our schedule this year.”
For LaGrange, the team that will take the field on Friday night will bear little resemblance to the squad that opened the season with a victory over Heard County.
Injuries have wrecked the depth chart, leaving it up to Gibbs and the other coaches to stitch together a lineup each week.
“We’ve got freshmen that played a freshman and a JV schedule, and they’re finishing up with a varsity schedule and getting a ton of reps,” Gibbs said. “And they’re getting an opportunity to go against SEC players that will be on SEC rosters next year.”
The injuries have decimated the offensive line, as well as the wide-receiver and running-back units.
The Grangers have also lost some key players on defense, although things have remained a bit more intact on that side of the ball.
Still, the Grangers are preparing to win ballgames and hopefully end on an up-note and carry some momentum into the offseason.
“I don’t think we’re as talented as Chapel Hill or Shaw, but we’re coming out there to win,” Gibbs said. “We’re scheming to win, and we’ll compete. Our seniors, they deserve it. They’ve worked has hard as anyone.”
Gibbs added that “it’s really positive with the way the kids have responded this week at practice. They came to work yesterday, they were focused.”
One player who has been there throughout the season is senior quarterback Charles Crawford, who has started every game and has only missed a few plays despite enduring some injuries of his own.
“Charles is a tremendous athlete, and he can impact football games, and he’s so smart,” Gibbs said.
Unfortunately for Crawford, many of the play-makers he was hoping to get the ball to this season have gone down with injuries.
Also, an offensive line that Gibbs hoped would be a strength of the team has been bitten hard by the injury bug.
“We came into summer ball with 19 linemen, and we counted yesterday, and we have eight,” Gibbs said.
LaGrange is coming off a 52-0 loss to Sandy Creek, and while the game got out of hand in the second half, Gibbs made sure to let the players know he wasn’t disappointed in them.
Gibbs felt the game was an example of some inexperienced players getting on-the-job training.
“You go back and look at film, and you don’t beat kids up,” Gibbs said. “This is your read, and you’re right where you’re supposed to be. Over the next three years, we’ve got to teach you how to make that tackle, to understand leverage, and understand this is a down block and this is wrong shoulder. That’s just football 101. Your ninth-graders, they don’t have experience. You’re starting from scratch. We had 10 freshmen play against Sandy Creek. You fast forward the tape, and that’s 10 sophomores that already have a year’s worth of head start to other sophomores in the state.”
Gibbs’ message to the players is, “if you know what you’re supposed to do, and you do it to the best of your ability, you can hold your head regardless of the score. You can only do your best.”
Gibbs is optimistic about the future of the program, in part because of what’s happening on the middle-school level.
Gardner Newman only lost one game this season, and it finished third in its league.
“Coach (Marcus) Blandinburg’s down at the middle school, and he’s doing a heck of a job,” Gibbs said. “The football IQ of our freshmen is higher than it’s been. The kids that we get next year, their IQ will be even higher.”
LAGRANGE VS. CHAPEL HILL
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Chapel Hill
RECORDS: LaGrange (2-6 overall, 0-5 in Region 5-AAAA); Chapel Hill (4-4 overall, 1-3 in Region 5-AAAA)
LAST MEETING: Chapel Hill beat LaGrange 37-3 last season