Everything’s going well for Grangers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Life is good for the LaGrange Grangers.
With last week’s 47-7 home victory over the Shaw Raiders, the Grangers (4-1 overall) have won four consecutive games, the program’s longest winning streak since 2009.
LaGrange is also 3-0 in Region 2-AAAA, setting the stage for a monster showdown against Carver on Friday night at Callaway Stadium.
“It’s fun to play a meaningful game,” said Matt Napier, LaGrange’s first-year head coach. “The kids are excited about it, and our staff is. Hopefully we’ll get another good crowd out here watching it.”
LaGrange and Shaw played two down-to-the-wire games the past two seasons, but there was no suspense this year.
LaGrange’s offense was unstoppable with sophomore quarterback Jaylan Brown continuing to excel, and senior running back Kale Gibbs returned from an injury and continued to put up big numbers.
LaGrange’s defense also had its best showing of the season in limiting Shaw to a single touch
“We’re pleased,” Napier said. “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. They kept their composure and played hard all night. I’m proud of our kids.”
The past few seasons have been difficult ones for the Grangers.
LaGrange won a combined six games from 2016 to 2019, and that included a winless season in 2017.
Napier is happy to see a dedicated group of seniors who haven’t had much success get to find out what it’s like to be a part of a winning team.
“They’ve had a lot of adversity to go through, and they continue to fall in love with the game, and continue to do what we wanted them to do,” Napier said. “They could have found a way to give up or do something else, but they didn’t do that. I’m proud of them.”
One of those seniors, play-making linebacker Jarno Huzzie, said “it’s really special” to be a part of this team.
“We worked hard over the summer, and we’re building every week, and we keep working as a team,” said Huzzie, who had seven tackles with a sack against Shaw. “We’re getting better together. Everything is going just fine, and we’re just taking it one week at a time.”
Junior Isaiah Jordan led LaGrange with nine tackles with one for loss against Shaw, and defensive lineman Thad Dixon had tackles with three for loss and a forced fumble.
Trae Cole added four tackles, Kway Coverson had three tackles with a fumble recovery, Tyreeq Carston had three tackles with a sack, and AJ Traylor had a forced fumble.
Junior defensive back Kobe Jones had another big game for LaGrange with two interceptions, giving him four picks on the season.
Jones had game-clinching interceptions in close wins over Northside-Columbus and Columbus High.
Jones, a basketball standout who has been LaGrange’s starting point guard the past two seasons, is playing varsity football for the first time.
“He’s got a nose for the ball, and I’m glad he’s out here,” Napier said. “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 offense continued to thrive with Brown leading the way.
Brown was nearly perfect through the air, completing 12-of-15 passes for 222 yards with one touchdown, and he also ran the ball five times for 47 yards with two touchdowns.
AJ Traylor was Brown’s favorite target with five catches for 95 yards, Magic Johnson had three receptions for 54 yards with a touchdown, and Tristan Smith caught two passes for 32 yards.
Kale Gibbs missed of the previous two games with an injury, and he jumped right back into the fray and had 20 carries for 175 yards with four touchdown runs.
“He works so hard in the weight room, and he’s been preparing for this moment for a long time,” Napier said of Gibbs. “He works with (the team), but he also goes above and beyond. It’s definite paying off for him.”
The Grangers finished with 481 yards of offense while scoring seven touchdowns, all in the first half.
“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.”
Asa Leath, who stepped in and got the job done at running back the past few weeks, didn’t play against Shaw, making it even more important having Gibbs back.
“He definitely makes a difference for his team,” Napier said. “He’s an explosive player. Asa was dinged up, so it was good to be able to have him back.”
After LaGrange plays Carver, it will play Jordan and Spencer before closing the regular season with challenging games against Troup and Hardaway.
The Grangers have a lot to play for heading into the second half of the season, and Napier is proud of the way the players have hung in there during a spring and summer that was so different because of the Covid-19 restrictions.
“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,” Napier said. “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.”