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Emotional night for Grangers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It was more than a game.

For the LaGrange Grangers, Saturday’s matchup with the Troup Tigers presented a chance to honor and recognize a fallen teammate, and perhaps take another step toward healing a massive and painful emotional wound.

Last week, LaGrange High’s Trae Cole was killed in a car wreck, leaving behind devastated teammates and coaches, as well as a heart-broken family.

LaGrange was supposed to play Troup one day after the tragic incident, but the decision was made to postpone the game.

LaGrange head coach Matt Napier left it up to the players as to whether they wanted to play the game at all, and to a man they did.

Playing short-handed with a number of key players including multiple starting offensive linemen and a fullback unavailable because of quarantine procedures, LaGrange hung tough and had an opportunity to pull off the win, but it was Troup earning the hard-earned 14-7 victory at Callaway Stadium.

Before the game, everyone in the stadium stood for a 14-second moment of silence (Cole’s jersey number was 14).

LaGrange seniors Jarno Huzzie and AJ Traylor, serving as team captains, then went to midfield holding a number 14 jersey in honor of Cole, and blue and white balloons were released into the November sky above the stadium.

There were tributes to Cole scattered across the stadium, from signs, to T-shirts emblazoned with the number 14, to stickers on helmets or shoes.

Members of Cole’s grieving family were at the stadium, and Napier wanted to make sure they knew how much Cole mean to the team, and to the community.

“We wanted to honor Trae, and honor the family like we did,” Napier said. “That was a special moment for our team and their family. You never want to go through that, or anything like that, but when you do you want to do it the right way, and I felt like we got an opportunity to love on them.”

Napier appreciated the cooperation LaGrange received from everyone at Troup, including head coach Tanner Glisson.

Most notably, Troup readily agreed to play on Saturday instead of Tuesday, even though it has to turn around and play again on Tuesday.

“Everything they did was first class toward our program,” Napier said. “I appreciate coach Glisson and those guys for handling it the way they did.”

As for the game, while it was a losing night for the Grangers, Napier let his players know how proud he was of them.

“I told them I hate that the game ended like it did, but they continued to scratch, and fight, and claw, even when it looked like it wasn’t going to be good,” Napier said. “We had some even more adversity in the game, with some injuries, and they continued to believe, and continue to fight.”

While LaGrange’s usually potent offense was held in check, the defense came through with a stellar effort to keep it close.

“Defensively, the way we had to adjust offensively, it put them in a bad situation,” Napier said. “So, they helped us stay in the game with their effort and physicality, and the coaches did a great job of preparing those guys.”

LaGrange was trailing 14-0 when lightning struck late in the third quarter.

One play after the Grangers recovered a fumble, Jaylan Brown found Kobe Jones for a 75-yard touchdown, and the Tigers’ lead was down to 14-7.

The Grangers blocked a punt in the fourth quarter and had the ball on the Tigers’ 30-yard line, but they were pushed backward and ended up punting.

LaGrange had one more possession that ended with an unsuccessful fourth-down play, and Troup took over and ran out the clock.

The Grangers (6-3 overall) fell to 5-2 in Region 2-AAAA, and they’ll finish the regular season on Thursday with a home game against the Hardaway Hawks.

Regardless of what happens in that game, LaGrange has already qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since 2014, and it will be on the road for a first-round game next week as the region’s number three or number four seed.

“We have a short week, and we play Hardaway Thursday,” Napier said. “They’re physical, and they’ve got a lot of good players, so we’ll have to come prepared and ready to play.”

In Saturday’s game, LaGrange threatened to take the early lead when it drove deep into Troup territory on the game’s opening possession.

Brown, LaGrange’s sophomore quarterback, had a 16-yard run and a 22-yard completion to Traylor to put the ball on the Troup 4-yard line.

That scoring opportunity was foiled because of a lost fumble, though, and that’s the only time LaGrange drove into Troup territory in the first half.

Troup scored the first half’s lone touchdown when it started at the LaGrange 18-yard line following a short punt.

Four plays later, Navontae Moss scored on a 6-yard run, and Cody Bray made the first of his two extra-point attempts as the first quarter expired to give Troup a 7-0 lead.

LaGrange’s defense stood firm after that, and Troup headed to the halftime break with a 7-0 lead.

Troup began the second half with an eight-play, 78-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 3-yard touchdown run by Moss, and Bray’s extra point made it a 14-0 game with 9:44 to play in the third quarter.

Later in the third quarter the Tigers were driving with a chance to pad their lead when the Grangers recovered a fumble at their own 25-yard line.

On the next play, Kobe Jones got behind the Troup defense, and he caught Brown’s pass in stride near midfield, and he raced the rest of the way to the end zone for the 75-yard touchdown.

Micah Prophett split the uprights with his extra-point attempt, and Troup’s lead was down to 14-7 with 1:21 remaining in the third quarter.

“That’s what we talked about in the locker room, just find a way,” Napier said. “Just find a way to make a play. We needed one play to be made, and we did, and we got back in it.”

With momentum on their side, the Grangers made another big play moments later when they blocked a punt, and they had the ball at the Tigers’ 30-yard line with 10 minutes to play.

The Grangers were knocked backward, though, and they ended up punting, and the Tigers took over at their own 10-yard line.

Once again the defense came through and forced a punt, and the Grangers took possession at their own 32-yard line.

On third-and-long, Brown completed an 11-yard pass to Magic Johnson, but an incomplete pass on fourth down gave the ball back to the Tigers.

Troup picked up two first downs to run out the clock and secure the win.

“We had some opportunities late,” Napier said. “We had some plays that we’d been working on a while, and we just missed. But, kudos to Troup. They did a really good job. They did a really good job defensively the entire game. They’ve got some really talented kids over there, and they do a great job.”