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LaGrange set for region opener

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

The LaGrange Grangers began their region schedule with a 30-12 win over the Central-Carroll Lions in 2016, but that was unfortunately not a sign of things to come.

The Grangers dropped their final five region games of the season, and they’ve gone winless against region opponents the past three years.

LaGrange will attempt to end a 23-game losing streak against region foes when it faces the Columbus Blue Devils on Friday night at Kinnett Stadium in Columbus.

It will be the first of eight Region 2-AAAA games for LaGrange, and it will need to finish fourth or higher to qualify for the state playoffs for the first time since 2015.

While LaGrange is 1-1 after losing to Upson-Lee and beating Northside-Columbus, Columbus is 0-2 after falling to Northside and Pacelli.

LaGrange, after evening its record at 1-1 with a dramatic 35-28 overtime win over Northside, was off last week as it prepared for the all-important region schedule.

Matt Napier, LaGrange’s first-year head coach, felt it was important for the players to enjoy a win heading into the off week.

“If you have success, you buy into the process a little bit more, you buy into the intangibles of what we’re talking about,” Napier said. “Winning helps, no doubt about that. We felt like we let it be more of a game than we should have had, but I’ll take a win every day of the week.”

Northside, after falling behind 28-7 in the second half, rallied to tie it and force overtime before LaGrange won it 35-28.

LaGrange took the lead on a touchdown pass from Jaylan Brown to AJ Traylor, and an interception by Kobe Jones on Northside’s overtime possession ended the suspense.

“You can’t take anything away from their coaching staff, or their kids’ ability to handle the adversity,” Napier said. “They never game up when they were down 28-7 and continued to fight and scratch and claw. It was one of those great games where somebody had to win, and somebody had to lose, and the both teams gave their heart to it, and gave full effort. It was good to be on the winning side.”

LaGrange prevailed thanks in large part to the effort of senior running back Kale Gibbs, who ran for nearly 300 yards with two touchdown runs, and Caleb Ross also has a scoring run.

Brown, a sophomore who has thrived in his first season as the starting quarterback, threw touchdown passes to Traylor and Jones.

Now, a rested LaGrange team will look to not only begin region play in style, but win two games in a row for the first time since 2015.

“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to go down and play a complete game ,and handle ourselves, and handle our business,” Napier said.

It has been an unusual spring and summer for the Grangers, who have had to adjust to a new head coach while dealing with everything thrown their way because of Covid-19.

“Everybody is going through that,” Napier said. “For a long time, we didn’t even know when the games were going to be. We’d come up and work out at the high school without any kind of thought of, we know we’re going to play here, we know we’re going to play there. There was no semblance of, this is how the calendar is going to look. We were all flying by the seat of our pants. I’m not used to that. I’m used to the structure. Finally, you feel like it’s getting back to normal, although we’re still following all the rules, and you’re still missing a kid here or there. That’s part of it. You know you’re playing Friday, and this is what we’re going to do on this day. It’s been good.”

Through it all, Napier has been pleased with the effort of the players, and he feels each day has been better than the last.

“The kids are really buying into the process. They’ve worked hard, and we’ve continued to improve practice,” Napier said. “The kids are understanding the transition from group to group, and the expectation of how hard you practice when you’re in there, how hard your live reps are. It’s been a definite change from day one. We’re running more, conditioning more, becoming more mentally tough. You expect that to just keep growing and growing, and keep getting better and better. The weight room’s been awesome, too. The kids are not sore any more. There are changes in their bodies already. They’ve done a great job. The kids have really bought in, and the coaching staff has done a tremendous job of pushing the kids and getting everything organized. We’ve really improved.”

LaGrange’s opponent this week is a Columbus team that went 1-9 last season and has given up nearly 80 combined points in its first two games this year.

No matter the quality of the opponent, Napier said “we’re not taking anything for granted, from day-to-day practice, to this ballgame.

“It’s the most important game we’ve got, and we’re focused on going down there and doing the little things right, and taking care of the football, and eliminating the penalties that we can control. Those things are important in being successful.”

LAGRANGE VS. 

COLUMBUS

WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kinnett Stadium (Columbus)

RECORDS: LaGrange (1-1); Columbus (0-2)

LAST MEETING: LaGrange lost to Columbus 21-13 in 2015