Red-hot Grangers win fourth straight
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Throughout a challenging and uncertain summer, the LaGrange Grangers kept showing up for work, kept preparing for a season they hoped would become a reality, although there were no guarantees.
“It’s unlike what any group of kids have had to go through before when you talk about the Covid situation and just everything we’re going through in the world,” said Matt Napier, LaGrange’s first-year head coach. “Those guys didn’t know if we’d get to play this season, and for them to show up even if they weren’t sure they were going to play and go through all those things, I couldn’t be more proud of this group. It’s been a lot of sweat, a lot of tough times, and they persevered through it, and I’m glad to see them get rewarded for it.”
LaGrange began the season with a loss to Upson-Lee, but it has run off four consecutive wins since then, including Thursday’s dominant 47-7 victory over the Shaw Raiders on homecoming night at Callaway Stadium.
LaGrange (4-1 overall), which improved to 3-0 in Region 2-AAAA, has won four consecutive games for the first time since the 2009 season.
LaGrange has also matched its win total from the previous three seasons combined, and Napier believes that’s a testament to the willingness of the players to buy into what he and the other coaches have been trying to teach them over the past few months, going back to those summer days when the future was unclear.
“The kids have done a phenomenal job of buying into what we’re doing, and I couldn’t be more proud of their effort and their focus tonight,” Napier said. “They kept their composure and played hard all night. I’m proud of our kids.”
One of LaGrange’s leaders this season has been senior linebacker Jarno Huzzie, and he had another big night as LaGrange’s defense put the clamps on a Shaw offense with some weapons.
Huzzie, who hasn’t been able to enjoy many wins in previous years, said “it’s really special” to be a part of a team that’s finding success.
“We worked hard over the summer, and we’re building every week, and we keep working as a team,” Huzzie said. “We’re getting better together. Everything is going just fine, and we’re just taking it one week at a time.”
LaGrange delivered a decisive and dominant all-around performance against an overmatched Shaw squad.
LaGrange’s offense, with senior running back Kale Gibbs running for four touchdowns and sophomore quarterback Jaylan Brown continuing to do special things, moved the ball at will in the first half and scored every time it had the ball.
“You always see things you can improve on, but the kids have done a wonderful job of preparing of working and buying into our (offensive) system,” Napier said. “I can’t say enough about the assistant coaches, coach (David) Pleasants with the offensive line, and coach (Matt) Neighbors is one of the best running-backs coaches I’ve ever been around.”
Brown, who had two touchdown runs and a scoring pass, believes the versatility of the offense is a key to the success.
“It’s real fun, because we can do it anyway we want to, either throwing it or running it,” Brown said. “We don’t do the same thing every down.”
The defense was up to the challenge as well, with Shaw’s lone score coming on a touchdown in the second quarter.
Junior defensive back Kobe Jones, who is in his first season as a varsity football player, had a pair of interceptions that led to LaGrange touchdowns.
“He’s got a nose for the ball, and I’m glad he’s out here,” Napier said of Jones. He’s just a wonderful kid. He’s always got a smile on his face, and we’re happy to see him making plays.”
LaGrange’s defense set the tone right away, with a Huzzie sack forcing a Shaw punt on the game’s opening possession.
The Grangers began their first possession at their own 31-yard line, and they went to work.
Gibbs, who’d missed most of the previous two games with an injury, had runs of seven and 12 yards on the first two plays, and the Grangers were off and running.
After Brown completed a 26-yard pass to AJ Traylor, Gibbs scored on a 5-yard run, and the Grangers led 6-0 with 5:06 left in the first quarter after an unsuccessful two-point attempt.
Following a second straight three-and-out by the Shaw offense and a long punt return by Trae Cole, the Grangers had the ball inside the 20-yard line.
Two plays later, Gibbs scored on a 16-yard run, and following another unsuccessful two-point attempt, the lead was 12-0 with 2:07 to play in the first quarter.
Needing to do something offensively to stem LaGrange’s momentum, Shaw instead turned the ball over, with Tae Snead recovering a fumble at the 33-yard line.
Gibbs ripped off an 18-yard run on first down, and three plays later, the senior running back scored on a 7-yard run, and Micah Prophett’s extra point made it a 19-0 game with 34 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Grangers began their next possession at their own 32-yard line following a punt, and seven plays later they were in the end zone again.
Gibbs had a 13-yard run and a 22-yard catch on the drive, and Brown finished things off with a 13-yard touchdown run, and Prophett’s extra point put Shaw in a 26-0 hole with 8:52 to play in the first half.
Jones had the first of his two interceptions moments later to give LaGrange the ball at the Shaw 43-yard line, and it took the offense four plays to score again. Johnson caught a 17-yard pass on first down, and Brown followed with a 23-yard run to put the ball on the 11-yard line.
Gibbs nearly scored on a 9-yard scamper, and he did find the end zone on the next play, with his 2-yard run and Prophett’s extra point extending the lead to 33-0 with 7:22 left in the first half.
The Raiders responded with a touchdown drive, and the Grangers’ lead was down to 33-7 with 2:14 left on the first-half clock.
LaGrange’s big-play offense continued to chew up big chunks of yardage, with Brown completing passes of 26 yards to Brown and 16 yards to Johnson to get the ball deep in Shaw territory.
Brown completed the drive with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Johnson, and Prophett’s extra-point try was true, and LaGrange was on top 40-7 with 43 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Grangers weren’t done.
The Raiders put the ball in the air when they got the ball back, and Jones came through with his second interception, and he made it to the 10-yard line before he was tackled.
Gibbs ripped off a 9-yard run on first down and was tackled just short of the goal line, and Brown muscled his way into the end zone on the next play, and LaGrange led 47-7, which was the score at the half.
LaGrange’s first-team offense came out for one possession in the third quarter, and Brown completed a 30-yard pass to Tristan Smith to get the ball in Shaw territory, and that drive ended with a missed field-goal attempt.
Napier substituted freely the rest of the way, and by the fourth quarter rolled around there was a running clock.
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