Plenty of highlights from week one
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Following a summer or uncertainty, high-school football returned in Georgia last week with a full slate of games across the state.
Locally, the Troup Tigers and LaGrange Grangers both opened their seasons on the road, and there were plenty of positives for both teams, even though they lost.
The Callaway Cavaliers, meanwhile, will begin their season this week against the rival Troup Tigers.
Here’s a look at some of the top performances, and other noteworthy items, from the first week of games.
QUITE A DEBUT: A year ago, Qua Birdsong was making plays for a dominant Long Cane Middle School defense.
Birdsong helped the Cougars finish with a perfect record while winning a league title, and they finished the season with six straight shutouts.
Birdsong is now a freshman at Troup High, and through one
one game at least, he appears intent on continuing to make life difficult for opposing offenses, just at a higher level.
In last week’s season-opening 28-14 loss to Harris County, Birdsong had six tackles, including three sacks, and he also had an interception as well as a pass breakup that likely would have been a pick six if he’d hung onto the ball.
Birdsong was one of a handful of Troup defensive linemen who came through with a strong effort on opening night.
Christopher Hilton was tops among the defensive linemen with seven tackles with two for loss, and senior Xavier Clarke had six tackles, including five solo stops, and he also had a quarterback hurry.
“He’s very coachable,” Troup head coach Tanner Glisson said of Clarke. “So he’s come a long way taking to the coaching. He’s the technician of the defensive line. And he’s a big body, too. He’s 245.”
Senior Jordan Adams also had six tackles, including three for loss, and Zy Varner had six tackles.
Birdsong aside, Troup’s defensive linemen are all experienced players.
“It’s senior, senior, senior, senior, so they’ve all been around,” Glisson said. “That’s probably the strength of our defense.”
RUNNING STRONG: The ground game figures to be a strength for the LaGrange Grangers and Troup Tigers this season, and that was no doubt the case last week.
The two teams combined for nearly 600 rushing yards in last week’s games, and Kale Gibbs and Anthony Ferguson had more than half of those yards.
For LaGrange, Gibbs and Caleb Ross were unstoppable in a 31-19 loss to Upson-Lee, averaging more than 10 yards per carry while putting up big numbers.
Gibbs, who got the scoring started for LaGrange with a 60-yard touchdown, had 136 yards on 12 carries, good for an average of 11.33 yards per attempt.
Ross, like Gibbs a senior, made the most of his six carries with 63 yards on six attempts, an average of 10.5 yards per carry.
Quarterback Jaylan Brown also contributed in the running game with 33 yards on five attempts.
At Troup, senior Anthony Ferguson made an explosive debut with his new team in a 28-14 loss to Harris County.
Ferguson had 225 yards on 24 attempts with two touchdowns, including a scintillating 97-yard scamper that put Troup on the board in the second half.
Troup’s other senior running back, Navontae Moss, ran for 45 yards on six attempts, and he had a 20-yard run.
Freshman quarterback Taeo Todd also contributed in the running game with 52 yards on 14 attempts, and his longest run was 17 yards.
Overall, the Tigers ran for 324 yards on 45 attempts, good for an average of 7.5 yards per carry.
MAKING PLAYS: Coming into the season, LaGrange head coach Matt Napier felt that junior defensive back Montavious Martin was ready for a breakout season.
While the season is only one game old, things are going well so far for Martin, who had a strong effort in last week’s 31-19 loss to Upson-Lee.
Martin tied with linebacker Valshawn Patterson for the team-lead with nine tackles while helping anchor things in the defensive backfield.
“We’re excited about his potential,” Napier said of Martin. “He’s a high-level college talent, and he’s done a really good job this summer.”
TOP TIGER: Troup’s Jace Godwin is a multi-year starter who knows what it takes to find success on game night, and he delivered a stellar effort against Harris County.
Godwin, a senior defensive back, led the Tigers with nine tackles, including three for loss.
Godwin is part of a veteran group of defensive backs that also includes Sirr Morgan, Kullum Irvin and Marquavious Kelley, and head coach Tanner Glisson said those players specialize in making open-field tackles.
“The big thing now-a-days is, you’ve got to be able to tackle in space,” Glisson said. “You see them out here in the open field being able to tackle one-on-one, that’s big.”
FINDING THE END ZONE: In recent years, the LaGrange Grangers have had a difficult time putting the ball in the end zone on passing plays.
During the past three seasons combined, in fact, LaGrange had 12 passing touchdowns in 30 games.
The Grangers are hoping to reverse that trend this season, and they got off to a solid start in last week’s 31-19 loss to the Upson-Lee Knights.
Sophomore quarterback Jaylan Brown, who was making his first start, threw two touchdown passes, one to Magic Johnson, and the other to AJ Traylor.
That’s only the third time since the start of the 2017 season that a LaGrange quarterback had multiple scoring passes in a game.
Brown completed 8-of-20 passes for 117 yards with the two touchdowns, and five different receivers caught passes.
Traylor, LaGrange’s leading returning receiver, had two catches for 47 yards, Johnson had two receptions for 27 yards, and Javon Brown, Eric Tumlin and Tristan Smith each had one catch.
Johnson, a sophomore, is one of the newcomers to the receiving corps, and coach Matt Napier expects big things from him.
“He’s kind of a kid that you’ve heard of around here, and he’s really developed,” Napier said. “He’s only going to be a 10th-grader like a lot of the guys. He’s super-quick, and explosive when he gets the ball. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do out there.”