Grangers rise to the occasion
Published 1:50 am Wednesday, December 2, 2020
By KEVIN ECKLEBER
With the season on the line, three of LaGrange’s senior leaders rose to the occasion.
After a successful regular season, LaGrange hosted New Manchester on Saturday night in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
LaGrange won 30-26 to advance to the second round, and seniors Kale Gibbs, AJ Traylor and Jarno Huzzie were key reasons why.
While Gibbs and Traylor led the offensive effort, Huzzie had a monster night on defense from his linebacker position.
Huzzie, who missed the regular-season finale against Hardaway with an injury, had 18 tackles with a sack and a forced fumble.
Huzzie is LaGrange’s leading tackler this season, and head coach Matt Napier is proud of the growth he has shown and for the senior leadership he has displayed.
“I had many a conversation this summer in front of the old gym,” Napier said. “For him to be able to grow up and
he’s done this year, it speaks volume for his growth as a young man. That’s the kind of thing that will carry him further in live. He just plays with effort.”
While Huzzie has been LaGrange’s defensive leader this season, Gibbs has carried that mantle on the offensive side.
Gibbs stepped to the forefront once again on Saturday, running for 217 yards on 28 carries, and he had one catch for 26 yards.
For the season, Gibbs has 1,563 yards on 171 carries, good for an average of more than nine yards per attempt, and he has scored 16 touchdowns.
For the second straight week, Gibbs also scored LaGrange’s go-ahead touchdown.
Against Hardaway, Gibbs had a 12-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter that gave LaGrange the lead.
In the New Hampstead game, Gibbs’ 8-yard touchdown run with 4:07 to play put LaGrange on top.
“We knew Kale is who he is,” Napier said. “He has special ability and character, and you want to give him the ball in that situation. It’s the second week in a row where we called the same play. That’s how we scored against Hardaway.”
Traylor, meanwhile, showed how explosive of a player he is from the wide-receiver position.
Traylor had three catches for 113 yards, and he had touchdown receptions of 74 yards and 14 yards.
Traylor also played most of the game on defense from his defensive-back position.
GAME-CHANGING PLAY: For Napier, it was an easy choice.
After Jaylan Brown threw a touchdown pass to AJ Traylor, LaGrange lined up to kick off from the 50-yard line following a penalty on New Manchester.
The Grangers still trailed by two points with a little more than four minutes remaining, and they didn’t have any time outs remaining.
So Napier called for the onside kick, knowing that even if they didn’t recover it New Hampstead wouldn’t gain that much in field position from a normal kickoff.
“When we got that penalty, it just makes sense to take that shot,” Napier said. “We didn’t have any timeouts left. They’ve been pretty good offensively, so it was a smart move for us in that scenario.”
Micah Prophett, LaGrange’s junior place kicker, flawlessly executed the onside kick, with the ball taking a big bounce and careening off a New Manchester player and rolling deep into New Manchester territory, and Jeffery Sims made the recovery at the 8-yard line.
Kale Gibbs had an 8-yard touchdown run on the next play to give the Grangers the lead, and they held on for a 30-26 win to advance to the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
Prophett, in addition to his flawless onside kick, also made a field goal and two extra points.
“It says a lot about Micah. He spends a lot of time, even outside of what we do,” Napier said. “He’s always working, and he pays attention to the details. He hit a field goal again tonight. He’s just really talented with what he does, and it’s great to see him have the success he’s had because he works so hard.”
DEFENSIVE LEADERS: While Jarno Huzzie led the way with his impressive 18-tackle total, a handful of other players also had productive games on that side of the ball.
Isaiah Jordan, a junior safety, had a 15-tackle night, and senior defensive lineman Lataurus Swindle had six tackles, including one for loss.
Senior defensive lineman Thadd Dixon had four tackles with two sacks, and junior Montavious Martin had three tackles and four pass breakups.
HANGING IN THERE: It wasn’t a flawless performance by LaGrange quarterback Jaylan Brown, but he came through when it counted.
With LaGrange trailing by nine points and in desperate need of points, Brown threw a 14-yard strike to AJ Traylor for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
After as successful recovery of an onside kick, the Grangers took the lead on a Kale Gibbs touchdown, and they won 30-26.
In the first half, Brown threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Traylor, and he also had a 1-yard scoring run.
“We had some breakdowns,” Brown said. “I had one, but we came back, we fought back and we won.”
In a game where a lot went wrong, the Grangers hung in there and found a way to win.
“(Brown is) still a young quarterback, and we’ve got a young team,” Gibbs said. “We’re expecting bumps and bruises, but that’s what makes us such a great team. We’re able to overcom