Tigers confident heading into playoffs
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They’re tested and ready to roll.
The Troup Tigers, who played a rugged regular-season schedule, will visit two-time defending state-champion Blessed Trinity on Friday in the opening round of the Class AAAA state playoffs on Friday.
It’s a big-time task for the Tigers, but they’re likely as prepared as any team in the state thanks to the challenges they faced during the regular season.
The Tigers dropped four regular-season games, and three of those setbacks were against teams with two losses between them.
Troup’s losses were to Cartersville (10-0), Callaway (9-1), Sandy Creek (9-1), and Cedartown.
“To go through that gauntlet and be playing your best football at the right time is really a testament to our players, and our coaches,” said Tanner Glisson, Troup’s fifth-year head coach. “It’s easy to fall apart when things aren’t going quite as well, so we’re really proud of where we are. And the competition gets better and better.”
Troup (6-4 overall) went 3-3 in Region 5-AAAA to earn the region’s fourth seed for the state playoffs.
Troup’s opponent is Blessed Trinity, which has been the big dog in Class AAAA of late with back-to-back state championships.
Arguably Blessed Trinity’s most challenging playoff game last year was against Troup in the semifinals.
In a game where the teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards, Blessed Trinity outlasted Troup 51-35.
Kobe Hudson, Troup’s outstanding senior quarterback, passed for 234 yards with three touchdowns, and he ran for 204 yards with two touchdowns.
Hudson will be back under center for Friday’s playoff game, and while it’s obviously a massive undertaking for he and his teammates, he said “every game we go in believing we can win.”
It helps that Troup is coming off an inspired effort against Cartersville.
Ultimately it was a losing night for the Tigers, but they stood toe-to-toe with the powerful Purple Hurricanes and lost 55-45.
“It just showed us what we can do when we’re focused,” Hudson said. “The defense had a good game except for a few busted plays, and the offense had a really good game.”
While not taking any satisfaction in losing, Glisson does feel the Cartersville game offers a confidence boost.
“You go toe-to-toe with those guys, and you look at some things that you could have done differently that could have affected the outcome, you feel pretty good about it,” Glisson said.
The Tigers got it done offensively with a running game that was mostly unstoppable.
Running back Trey Williams, who has had a superb senior season, ran for 153 yards with two touchdowns against Cartersville.
In 10 regular-season games, Williams ran for 1,415 yards on 210 carries while scoring 14 touchdowns.
There has only been one game this season, in fact, when Williams didn’t score a touchdown, and four times he’s had two or more touchdowns in a game.
Hudson also showed of his big-play ability against Cartersville.
Hudson threw for 108 yards with touchdown passes to Marquavious Kelley and Nick Schweizer, and he also ran for 168 yards on 19 attempts with a touchdown.
Hudson, who is at 100 percent after suffering an ankle injury earlier in the season, has had another big year.
Hudson has thrown for 1,449 yards with 17 touchdowns, and he’s run for 923 yards with seven touchdowns.
Leading the way for the Tigers is an offensive line that includes Michael Irvin, Royce White, Tyler Kitchens, Will Cooley, Braxton Truitt, as well as tight end Luke Purnell.
While the Tigers have shown the ability to chew up yards on the ground, Glisson is hopeful they’ll be able to find some big plays in the passing game on Friday.
“The running game is really good, but you still have to make some explosive plays in the passing game, and we didn’t do that (against Cartersville),” Glisson said. “We had chances to do that. Kelley made one where he made a guy miss. Schweizer had one. Those are some plays we’ve got to make to have a chance to keep playing.”
Zy Varner is Troup’s leading receiver with 16 catches and seven touchdowns, and Mark-Anthony Dixon and Kelley each has 14 catches and three touchdowns.
Schweizer and Purnell have two touchdown catches apiece.
Troup’s defense, which struggled at times earlier in the season, has been getting it done of late.
Troup had dominant defensive performances against LaGrange, Cedartown and Central-Carroll before the Cartersville game.
Troup’s leading tackler is senior linebacker Jabralin Gooden, who has 106 tackles to go along with two forced fumbles and an interception.
Linebacker A.J. Tucker, who has become one of the team’s top defensive players as a freshman, has 90 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss.
Devon Hill has 72 tackles, and he also returned a fumble for a touchdown, and Zy Varner has 43 tackles, most of which have come since he moved into the starting lineup for the LaGrange game.
Among the defensive linemen, Jeremiah Holston leads the way with 95 tackles, including 28 for loss with 5.5 sacks.
Jordan Adams has 79 tackles, including 43 tackles in the past four games, Andy Boykin has 60 tackles with five sacks, and Xavier Clarke has 56 tackles.
Defensive back Jace Godwin has enjoyed a big season with 61 tackles, and Sirr Morgan has 45 tackles.
On special teams, Isaac Andrews and Cody Bray have both done a nice job kicking the ball, and Mark-Anthony Dixon is a dangerous return man.
Blessed Trinity, much like Troup, will bring a potent rushing attack into Friday’s game.
Justice Haynes, a freshman, leads Blessed Trinity with 1,210 yards and 14 touchdowns, and Elijah Green has 746 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Quarterback Duncon Reavis has completed 45-of-83 passes for 718 yards with three touchdowns.
“They look almost identical to how they looked last year,” Glisson said. “They’re maybe a little bit different in some areas, but the big deal is we lost the same amount of seniors, and we’re having to play some sophomores and freshmen. They lost the same number of seniors, and they’re only playing one freshman, and outside of that they’re playing all juniors and seniors. They just do a tremendous job. They’re back-to-back state champions for a reason.”
TROUP VS. BLESSED TRINITY
WHAT: First round of Class AAAA state playoffs
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Blessed Trinity (Roswell)
RECORDS: Troup (6-4 overall, 3-3 in Region 5-AAAA); Blessed Trinity (9-1 overall, 6-0 in Region 7-AAAA)