There were positives for Grangers in opening loss
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It was far from a flawless effort, with the LaGrange Grangers falling 31-19 in their season opener against Upson-Lee on Friday night, but first-year head coach Matt Napier was nonetheless encouraged by what he saw.
“I thought we played really, really hard,” Napier said. “We played with a lot of effort, a lot of fight. That’s what we were looking for. We knew without a full offseason, and a full summer, and being able to compete at padded camps and seven-on-sevens and scrimmages that there’d be some bumps Friday.”
Some of those bumps were turnovers, as well as some costly special-teams miscues that led to Upson-Lee scores.
Upson-Lee, conversely, didn’t have any turnovers, which no doubt played a huge part in determining the outcome.
“They didn’t turn the ball over, and we did,” Napier said. “A lot of times that’ll tell the story of a game. Those are little thing we can clean up.”
There were bright spots on a losing night.
Offensively, the Grangers had 351 yards, with sophomore quarterback Jaylan Brown doing some nice things in his first game as a starter.
Brown completed 8-of-20 passes for 117 yards with two touchdowns, and he had five carries for 33 yards.
“He made some mistakes, but he really played well,” Napier said. “I was pleased with his physicality and his command of the offense.”
Senior wide receiver AJ Traylor had two catches for 47 yards with a touchdown, and sophomore Magic Johnson caught two passes for 27 yards with a touchdown.
The Grangers also got it done in the running game, with Kale Gibbs and Caleb Ross combining for more nearly 200 yards while averaging more than 10 yards per carry.
Gibbs led the Grangers with 136 yards on 12 attempts, good for an average of 11 yards a carry, and he had a 60-yard scoring run in the first quarter.
Ross also proved difficult to stop with six carries for 63 yards, an average of 10.5 yards per attempt.
“We moved the ball well,” Napier said. “I thought our offensive line played well. I thought Kale Gibbs ran the ball really well, and Caleb Ross came in and was productive. We had over 300 yards of offense, so we were excited about that.”
Defensively, linebacker Valshawn Patterson and free safety Montavious Martin led the way with nine tackles apiece, and defensive ends Lataurus Swindle and Jacquez Smith each had a sack.
After Upson-Lee tied it following Gibbs’ early touchdown run, LaGrange reclaimed the 13-7 lead on a scoring pass from Brown to Johnson early in the second quarter.
Upson-Lee rallied to take a 21-13 lead at the half, and it extended the lead to 31-13 before LaGrange got a late touchdown pass from Brown to Traylor.
“I thought we played physical on defense, and I thought we moved the ball really well offensively, and had our opportunities,” Napier said. “We did some things that young teams do. We had a couple of errant snaps, a couple of drops on kickoffs. Things like that we can clean up. There was definitely a lot of effort from the guys, and we played well, but those mistakes kill you.”
LaGrange will look for its first win when it hosts Northside-Columbus on Thursday.
“We’ll continue to get better,” Napier said. “Those (mistakes) are things we can work on, and we’re looking forward to getting to play again.”