Defense shines for Grangers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The Hardaway Hawks were rolling.
After scoring a touchdown late in the first half, Hardaway’s high-powered offense found the end zone on its first two possessions of the second half to take a 19-13 lead late in the third quarter.
LaGrange’s defense was getting pushed around a bit, and if that continued, the game was almost certainly going to go Hardaway’s way.
Fortunately for LaGrange, the defense did indeed rise to the occasion, holding Hardaway scoreless the rest of the way.
The Grangers took the lead on a Kale Gibbs touchdown run and a Micah Prophett extra point, and Montavious Martin blocked a field-goal attempt in the closing moments to put the finishing touches on a 20-19 win.
The win gave the Grangers a 7-3 regular season, and it also helped them earn the number two spot in Region 2-AAAA which gives them a home playoff game in the state playoffs.
LaGrange will host New Hampstead on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the first round of the playoffs.
There were plenty of reasons the Grangers beat the Hawks, and the performance of the defense is high on that list.
The Grangers had to hold the Hawks to 20 or fewer points to win a tie-breaker in the region, and they made that happen.
“Our defense really stepped up,” said Gibbs, who ran for 152 yards. “We came into this with the idea of winning, and not only did they hold them to 19 points, and stop them on that last drive, but they kept their composure and played so well, and now we get to play this next playoff game at home.”
After the Hawks took a 19-13 lead, the Grangers punted on their next two possessions, but the defense made two critical stops. Following the second of those two stops, LaGrange drove for the go-ahead touchdown, with Gibbs scoring on a 12-yard run.
The Hawks put something together on their final possession, but their hopes ended with the blocked field-goal attempt.
The defensive effort was especially impressive considering the Grangers were short-handed with some key players missing, forcing freshmen Parker Shattuck, Koron Smith and JD McCutcheon to play.
“We punted the ball back to them, and they kept going backward,” LaGrange head coach Matt Napier said. “It was an effort deal. We had several freshmen play tonight defensively.”
Isaiah Jordan, a junior safety, led the Grangers with 11 solo tackles, and junior defensive back Kobe Jones had eight tackles with a pass break-up. Koron Smith, one of the freshmen, had six tackles, and junior linebacker Tae Snead had five tackles with an interception.
Montavious Martin, in addition to clinching the win with his blocked field-goal attempt, had four solo tackles and four assists with an interception. David Paredes, a junior defensive lineman, had four tackles, and senior defensive lineman Lataurus Swindle had four tackles, including two for loss.
COMING THROUGH: Considering the Grangers beat the Hardaway Hawks 20-19, every point was critical.
That made the performance of junior kicker Micah Prophett especially important.
Prophett not only made two field goals, but he was perfect on his two extra-point attempts.
Prophett’s effort was part of a big night on special teams for LaGrange.
Freshman Parker Shattuck did a solid job punting, Montavious Martin blocked a field-goal attempt in the final seconds to preserve the win, and Kobe Jones blocked an extra-point try.
“Special teams were a big factor,” LaGrange head coach Matt Napier said. “We talked to the kids all week that we could have an impact in that area of the game. Parker had a really good punt as well. You can’t say enough about Micah. He hit both of those field goals, and the extra point when the pressure was on to give us a one-point lead and they were trying to block it. A lot of credit goes to his clutch factor. That was big-time for him, and he made a play to help us win the game.”
Prophett made a 21-yard field goal in the first quarter that gave LaGrange a 3-0 lead.
On LaGrange’s first possession of the second half, Prophett was called upon again, and he drilled a 36-yard field goal.
“Coach Napier, he loves his offense, so for him to take that risk and put me out there, it means a lot,” Prophett said.
WHAT A SEASON: LaGrange senior running back Kale Gibbs capped an outstanding regular season with a big-time performance against Hardaway last week.
After being limited to fewer than 30 yards in a loss to Troup, Gibbs bounced back in a big way against Hardaway, running for 152 yards on 17 attempts with a touchdown.
Despite missing two full games with an injury, and seeing limited time in some other games, Gibbs closed the regular season with 1,346 yards on 143 carries, an average of 9.4 yards per attempt, with 15 touchdowns.
In the Hardaway game, it was Gibbs’ 12-yard touchdown run and Micah Prophett’s extra point that gave LaGrange a 20-19 lead in the fourth quarter.
Gibbs missed a lot of time during the 2018 and 2019 seasons with injuries, so he’s grateful to have been able to have a successful senior season from an individual, and a team standpoint.
“It means a lot, because I’ve been through a lot these last four years,” Gibbs said. “But I hate being selfish, and I love sharing with the team. Just being able to (do that) for the entire team and not just for myself, it’s a great feeling, trying to lead these kids.”
MAKING PLAYS: Junior Kobe Jones decided to play varsity football for the first time this season, and that decision has paid major dividends for the Grangers.
Jones has not only been one of LaGrange’s best defensive players as a defensive back, but he has been a consistent big-play threat on offense.
In the Hardaway game, Jones had a 53-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter that gave LaGrange a 10-0 lead, and he had eight tackles with a pass break-up on defense.
Jones also blocked an extra-point attempt, and that one point was critical in a 20-19 victory.
BIG-PLAY QB: LaGrange quarterback Jaylan Brown didn’t have a particularly efficient night throwing the ball, completing just 4-of-13 passes against Hardaway.
Brown made the most of those four completions, though, with them going for a combined 108 yards, and that included a 53-yard touchdown pass to Kobe Jones.
Brown also completed a 31-yard pass to Tae Snead.