LaGrange falls to Carver (Atlanta) in season opener

Published 10:52 pm Thursday, August 17, 2023

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Football is truly a game of inches. 

LaGrange found that out the hard way on Thursday night when the Grangers came up short against Atlanta (Carver) 28-12 in the opening game of the season. 

The Grangers were down 16-14 when they drove down inside the five-yard line with under six minutes to go in the game. It looked like LaGrange would provide the killer blow, but it was not to be as LaGrange fumbled the ball at the one-yard line and the Panthers returned it 97 yards for a touchdown.

“You can get discouraged when you don’t win, especially when you are that close to winning,” LaGrange head coach Matt Napier said. “Every inch matters, every play matters. You can’t slip up one time, especially in big games.”

Carver also added a late pick-six for good measure as the final scoreline did not reflect the game that transpired on the field.

The game was a true defensive slugfest for all four quarters. It did not look like it would be that way as the sophomore Caydin Thomas busted a 37-yard touchdown on the opening play of scrimmage after a big return from Gryson Cockrell.

The offense of the Grangers struggled from there, only scoring on a 23-yard field goal from Samuel Rodas as time expired in the first half. 

“Our guys battled and really put their guts on the line today,” Napier said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game.”

The Grangers got off to a hot start all around and had a chance to take a double-digit lead early when Harris Grace blocked a punt and the Grangers recovered at the Panther’s 23-yard line. The offense stuttered and could not find a way to score points. The offense let their counterparts on defense down again later in the half after Parker Shattuck dislodged the football from the quarterback and the Grangers recovered on the Panthers 27. But once again the Grangers came away with no points.

The defensive line had a field day with Shattuck leading the way with a big sack and forcing a fumble among other big plays on the evening. The defensive line dominated and registered more than five sacks on the opposing quarterback, including a safety on a sack from Noah Outland.

“I was really pleased with our defense, they really put their toes on the line and didn’t back down,” Napier said. “

The Panthers were able to strike on a 51-yard touchdown pass with 1:11 to go in the first quarter and proceeded to take the lead with a successful two-point conversion. Carver added to its lead on a short touchdown run with 5:53 to go in the half.

LaGrange was able to chip into the lead with the aforementioned safety and successful field goal, trailing 14-12 heading into the halftime break.

Neither team could find much offensive rhythm in the second half with all 14 points scored in the second half by the Carver defense. 

LaGrange made some critical errors in the game, turning the ball over five times. One of the reasons for the disjointed offense was the fact that the Grangers were missing their top two running backs — Jonathan Keys and Malachi Fannin-Render. 

“We lost Jonathan who was a really talented running back and the other guys had to step in, and I thought they did a really good job,” Napier said. “It is up to me to put those guys in better positions.”

The Grangers start the season 0-1. LaGrange will get a chance to get its first win of the season when the team travels to take on Northside on Aug 25.