Milestone win for Grangers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
COLUMBUS – The LaGrange Grangers were able to knock a couple of items off their to-do list, but they still have plenty left to accomplish.
With Thursday’s 38-7 win over Spencer at Memorial Stadium, LaGrange (6-3) assured itself of finishing with a winning record for the first time since 2009.
More importantly, the win guaranteed the Grangers a spot in the state playoffs for the first time since 2015.
LaGrange closes the regular season with two massive games against Region 2-AAAA opponents Troup and Hardaway.
If LaGrange wins both games, it will finish no lower than second in the region, which means it would host a state-playoff game.
If LaGrange finishes third or fourth in the region, it will be on the road for its state-playoff opener.
“There’s a lot on the line with those two games,” said LaGrange head coach Matt Napier. “You want to play in games like that, and we’ve got to make sure we do everything we can to make sure we’re prepared to play.”
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, it has been a breakthrough season for the Grangers.
After winning a combined six games from 2016 to 2019, LaGrange has matched that six-win total this season alone.
“It’s real fun,” said senior linebacker Jacquez Smith. “It’s a whole change for all of us to be able to win, to be able to celebrate.”
LaGrange didn’t figure to face much opposition against a Spencer team that only has one win this season, and that’s how it played out.
After punting on its opening possession, LaGrange found the end zone the next four times it had the ball while also scoring on a punt return by Trae Cole to take a 32-0 lead at the half.
Tyreeq Carston scored a touchdown after Spencer’s punter lost control of the ball to give the Grangers a 38-0 lead in the third quarter, and Spencer found the end zone in the fourth quarter to avoid the shutout.
While it was a winning night, Napier believes there is room for improvement.
“We definitely have some areas where we didn’t execute to our standard,” Napier said. “So we can go back and learn from that, and grow from that. We get so used to things working offensively. You’re moving the ball and not having any hiccups. We had a couple early, so those are growth moments, where you can improve. When everything’s easy and hard and you don’t have any adversity, it’s hard to grow from that. We had a little bit of that tonight.”
Napier added that he was “really pleased” with the defensive effort.
“We played well and continue to get better and better,” Napier said. “The kids are playing physical and running to the ball really well.”
After the teams exchanged punts, LaGrange put the ball in the end zone on its second possession, with senior running back Kale Gibbs beating the Spencer defense for a 27-yard touchdown, and Micah Prophett made the extra point to make it a 7-0 game.
Spencer was stuffed on its ensuing possession, and Cole returned a punt 57 yards for the touchdown, and LaGrange led 13-0 with 5:55 left in the opening quarter.
Spencer’s next possession ended with a failed fourth-down play, and LaGrange’s offense went back to work.
Jaylan Brown completed a 30-yard pass to Magic Johnson, and Gibbs followed with a 15-yard carry to put the ball on the Spencer 14-yard line.
Three plays later, Brown scored on a 1-yard run, and LaGrange’s lead was 19-0 with 48 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Grangers’ next possession began at the Greenwave 38-yard line following a short punt, and they needed two plays to pad their lead.
Following an incomplete pass on first down, Gibbs scored on a 38-yard touchdown run, and LaGrange led 25-0.
The Grangers went to the air to score their final touchdown of the half.
On third down, Johnson caught a short pass from Brown, and he turned it into a 13-yard touchdown, and Prophett connected on the extra point to give LaGrange a 32-0 cushion.
LaGrange capped its scoring in the third quarter.
Spencer’s punter lost control of the ball, and Carston scooped it up and rumbled about 10 yards for the touchdown, and LaGrange led 38-0.
Spencer scored on a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to put its points on the board.
The second half went quickly with a running clock, and Napier was able to empty the bench and make sure everyone got some playing time.
Lataurus Swindle, a senior linebacker, enjoying watching his younger teammates play in the second half.
“It’s good to see them play well,” Swindle said. “They’re the future of this team. It’s fun to watch them play.”