LaGrange eyes three-game winning streak
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It’s been eight years since the LaGrange Grangers won three straight games.
During the 2012 season, LaGrange beat Shaw, Columbus and Alexander in consecutive weeks, and that team finished 6-6 and reached the second round of the state playoffs before losing to Ridgeland.
If LaGrange can dispatch a winless Kendrick team this week, it will match that 2012 team by putting together a three-game winning streak.
After dropping the season opener to Upson-Lee, LaGrange beat Northside-Columbus 35-28 in overtime before rallying to top Columbus 39-32.
While LaGrange is riding high after back-to-back dramatic wins, nothing has gone right for Kendrick, which has been outscored by a combined score of 100-0 in losses to Washington and Carver.
“The Kendrick game, we don’t need to look past it,” said LaGrange head coach Matt Napier. “We’ll have a good week of practice, and try to go down there and win and make it three wins in a row, and two region wins in a row. It’s better to be on the good end of these streaks.”
LaGrange has had to work for both of its wins.
LaGrange gave up a 28-7 lead against Northside-Columbus, but it persevered and won 35-28 in overtime.
Last week against Columbus, LaGrange found itself trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter, but it rallied for a 39-32 victory.
For a team that has struggled in recent years, finding ways to win, no matter it happens, is important.
“They buy into what you talk about a lot better after you win,” Napier said. “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.”
Napier is proud of all the players, including one who was unable to play because of an injury.
Senior running back Caleb Ross suffered a knee injury during the Northside-Columbus game, and he couldn’t play against Columbus. Ross was still a big part of the team, though.
He served as an honorary captain last week and was on the field for the coin toss, and he was encouraging and supporting his teammates throughout a back-and-forth game.
Even though Ross can’t play, Napier said “he can still have an impact and still help our team win. He did that. When we were down, he was the number one encourager on the sideline.”
Whether Ross will be able to play again this season remains to be seen, and while that is obviously unwelcome news, Napier said he has handled everything with maturity.
“He’s done a great job of growing up in a short period of time,” Napier said. “When a 17 or 18-year-old gets the news that he may not play the rest of the year, it can go bad from a mental standpoint, and he was definitely not in the greatest place. But he’s committed to the team, and he truly cares. His heart’s in it.”
Another LaGrange running back, Kale Gibbs, is also out of action with an injury after running for more than 500 yards in the first three games.
In an indication of the depth the team has built, though, Asa Leath came in and ran for 143 yards on 16 carries, while Gibbs had 107 yards in the first quarter.
LaGrange also got a big game from sophomore quarterback Jaylan Brown, who continues to grow into the job.
Brown threw for 264 yards with two touchdowns, and he also ran for 53 yards with two touchdowns.
In three games, Brown has thrown for 524 yards with six touchdowns, and he also has 124 rushing yards with two touchdowns.
With Gibbs unavailable after the first quarter, Brown’s role increased even more, and he thrived.
“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.”
The Grangers have scored 93 points in three games, after only scoring 97 points in 10 games last season, and they’ve had more than 500 yards in each of the past two games.
An inexperienced defense, meanwhile, has struggled at times, but that unit has gotten the job done when it had to.
Against Columbus, LaGrange made three critical defensive stops in the fourth quarter, allowing the offense to mount the comeback.
“We’re extremely young on defense,” Napier said. “We’ve got some guys banged up. You turn the film on, and you can not question their effort. They’re playing really, really hard.”
As for Friday’s opponent, it has been a mighty struglged for Kendrick.
After losing to Washington-Atlanta 48-0 on opening night, Kendrick was overwhelmed by Carver 52-0 last week in the Region 2-AAAA opener for both teams.
LAGRANGE VS. KENDRICK
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Columbus-Memorial Stadium
RECORDS: LaGrange (2-1 overall, 1-0 in Region 2-AAAA); Kendrick (0-2, 0-1 in Region 2-AAAA)