Grangers find way to win

Published 12:23 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2020

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On a night where the LaGrange Grangers faced plenty of adversity, they found a way.

Trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter, LaGrange stormed back to beat the Columbus Blue Devils 39-32 on Friday night at Kinnett Stadium.

The win not only gave the Grangers (2-1 overall) their first winning streak since 2015, but they also opened their Region 2-AAAA schedule with a victory.

“The mentality is good,” said Matt Napier, LaGrange’s first-year head coach. “They have a willingness to continue to fight, even when things don’t necessarily go perfect, or go the exact way that you planned. It’s an intangible that you want any team to have. That’s why you play the sport, why you coach the game. You want the kids to be able to continue to learn the lessons that football provides. We definitely were learning a lot of lessons Friday night. We had a lot of things we had to overcome to be successful and win, and we did that.”

Here are some highlights from LaGrange’s win:

FILLING THE VOID: One of the obstacles LaGrange had to overcome was the loss of senior running back Kale Gibbs, who is one of the state’s most productive running backs.

Gibbs ran for more than 100 yards in the first quarter alone when he had to leave with an injury, which was a key loss since LaGrange’s number two running back, Caleb Ross, also wasn’t available.

Fortunately for the Grangers, Asa Leath was up to the challenge.

Leath had a huge night with 143 yards on 16 carries, and he helped LaGrange amass 570 yards in the 39-32 win.

Quarterback Jaylan Brown also helped overcome the loss of Gibbs with a stellar all-around performance.

Brown completed 12-of-26 passes for 264 yards with two touchdowns, and he had 15 carries for 53 yards with two touchdowns.

Senior wide receiver A.J. Traylor had three catches for 146 yards with a touchdown, and Magic Johnson caught three passes for 38 yards with a touchdown.

“Kale’s been our workhorse, and for Asa Leath to step up was big, and AJ Traylor made some phenomenal plays,” Napier said. “Early in the game, (Traylor) took one about 70 yards, and later on he made an unbelievable play on a skinny post. Guys are really stepping up and making those plays in big-time situations, and I’m really proud of how hard those guys played.”

Losing Gibbs was a big blow.

Although he only played one quarter, Gibbs had 107 yards on six carries with a touchdown, and he has more than 500 yards through three games.

“Jaylan Brown ended up having to carry the ball more,” Napier said. “He carried it 15 times, and threw the ball really well. It was a good night for him and the entire offense. Guys ended up stepping up and making plays when the team needed them.”

DEFENSIVE LEADER: On an inexperienced defense, Napier is counting on senior Jarno Huzzie to not only make plays, but to provide veteran leadership.

So far, so good.

Huzzie has been one of LaGrange’s top defensive play-makers through three games, and had a phenomenal effort against Columbus.

Huzzie had 13 tackles, including two sacks, and he helped the defense make some critical stops in the fourth quarter when LaGrange rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter.

“Jarno Huzzie, he had a bunch (of tackles), and a lot of them were effort tackles, effort plays,” Napier said. “I’m proud of a lot of those guys and how hard they’re playing.”

Isaiah Jordan added 10 tackles, including one for loss, and Lataurus Swindle had seven tackles with a pair of sacks.

Columbus enjoyed some success offensively, with quarterback Jonathan Powell throwing three touchdown passes, but LaGrange’s defense made the stops when it had to.

After the Blue Devils scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, they came up empty on their final three possessions.

“Credit to Columbus. They had a veteran quarterback who was making a lot of really good plays,” Napier said. “He did that the majority of the night, but we bowed up and made the stops we needed to to win the game, and I’m really proud of that, and coach (Burton) Thomas did a great job. Coach Thomas, and coach (Ben) Thrasher, and coach (Thomas) Cocker, and coach (Drew) Eady. Those guys on defense are working their butt off to get these guys ready to play. I thought we had a really good plan, and they made plays.”

Napier knows with so much inexperience on defense there will be growing pains, but he’s proud of what he’s seen so far.

“We’re extremely young on defense,” Napier said. “We got some guys banged up. You turn the film on, and you can not question their effort. They’re playing really, really hard.”

GAME-CLINCHING PICK: In 35-28 win over Northside-Columbus, LaGrange’s Kobe Jones ended the game by making an interception in overtime.

Last week against Columbus High, Jones did it again.

After LaGrange scored a late touchdown to take the lead, Columbus still had plenty of time to drive down the field for a potential game-tying score.

Instead, Jones intercepted a pass from quarterback Jonathan Powell, and LaGrange walked away with the 39-32 win.

Jones, a junior who is playing high-school football for the first time, also had four tackles.

Jones is part of an inexperienced secondary that got burned a few times but continues to progress.

“We’re young back there,” Napier said. “Those secondary guys ended up  making some great plays late in the game. Kobe had another game-sealing interception to help us win.”

FOURTH-QUARTER MAGIC: When Columbus scored a touchdown with 10:56 to play, LaGrange was staring at a 32-22 deficit.

The Grangers may have had their backs against the wall, but they had plenty of fight left in them.

LaGrange scored the game’s final 17 points to secure the dramatic 39-32 win and open Region 2-AAAA play in style.

After Columbus went up by 10, LaGrange marched down the field before the drive stalled, and Micah Prophett made a 36-yard field goal to make it a 32-25 game.

Following a stop by the LaGrange defense, the offense went back to work, with Asa Leath coming through with a long run and Jaylan Brown completing a pass to AJ Traylor.

Leath had a 17-yard run to get the Grangers close to the end zone, and Brown’s 3-yard touchdown run and Prophett’s extra point deadlocked the score at 32-32 with 4:50 remaining.

LaGrange’s defense made another critical stand, giving the offense an opportunity to win the game.

The Grangers went 55 yards in six plays, and Brown capped that drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, and Prophett’s extra point put the Blue Devils in a 39-32 hole.

Columbus was unable to answer, and LaGrange had the win after the stirring fourth-quarter comeback.

“It was good to see the kids growing, and fighting,” Napier said. “It always makes it better when you come out with a win for sure. They buy into what you talk about a lot better after you win. That’s part of the battle. That’s part of the brick by brick. That’s part of the day by day. It helps the weight room, it helps the practice field when you win. I’m proud of them. I’m proud of how hard they played.”