LaGrange looks for a rebound against Northside on Friday

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, August 23, 2023

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The LaGrange football team is looking for a rebound. The Grangers have started a season 0-1 for the first time since 2020 and will have a chance to avoid an 0-2 hole for the first time since 2018 when they travel to take on Northside on Friday.

The Grangers have owned the matchup since their first game against each other in 2004, going 8-2 in that span. The teams have matched up twice in the Matt Napier era — 2020 and 2022 — with the Grangers winning both games, including a 56-28 victory a season ago. 

“It was a really good ball game last year before we were able to separate ourselves late in the game,” Napier said. “We are going up there expecting to play in a tough environment against a really quality opponent.”

Northside is coming off a 58-0 beat down of Columbus in week one. The Patriots are looking to build upon a strong 2022 season in which they went 10-2, winning a region title and making the second round of the AAAAA playoffs.

The Patriots two losses a season ago came against the AAAAA state runner-ups (Warner Robins) and the Grangers.

While Northside is coming off the high of boat racing a cross town rival, the Grangers are coming off a stinging 28-12 defeat to no. 3 ranked Carver (Atlanta). The Grangers, down by just two points with under six minutes to go in the game, fumbled the ball away as the Panthers returned it for a touchdown to essentially ice the game.

“It’s frustrating because we felt like we had an opportunity to win the game, but we did not finish the way we wanted to,” Napier said. “We were pretty much in control with the way we were playing defensively, we just had to find a way to execute offensively, and we just didn’t finish and put them away.”

The Grangers now have to make sure that game doesn’t beat them twice.

“We have a great veteran group of leaders who will help manage that,” Napier said. “I think we have to put it behind us and move on. Every goal we have as a team is still out there.”

Despite the loss, there were some positives to take out of week one for the Grangers. LaGrange’s special teams were superb in all facets. The Grangers had a blocked punt, a couple of big kickoff returns from Gryson Cockrell and of course, the kicking of Samuel Rodas.

“Rodas is a young player, so for him to come in and make the plays he did was important,” Napier said. “Heck, he kicked off really, really well, and he hit all his PATs and a big field goal right before a half. 

“Those are always things you worry about when you have a new guy in a pressure situation, but I’m happy for him and I’m happy he is so young so we will have him for a while.”

The defense dominated the contest. The Grangers piled up seven sacks with Noah Outland, Parker Shattuck and Malachi Kemp all getting in on the act among others. The Grangers defense also produced a safety and came away with a fumble recovery.

“Our defense and special teams did enough to win the game,” Napier said.

The offense did not have nearly the same levels of success. The Grangers scored their only touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, a 37-yard run from Caydin Thomas.

Thomas, a sophomore, was a late edition to the starting lineup but impressed with 17 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown.

“He really stepped up, Napier said. “ He got thrown into the fire and really responded. We didn’t have many of them that took care of the ball the way they were supposed to, but Caydin was one of them.”

LaGrange will have to adjust without top two running backs — Malachi Fannin-Render, who may miss the entire season, and Jonathan Keys, who the Grangers are hoping to get back sooner rather than later. 

Gavin Barlow will have to take on a bigger role as well. He finished game one with six carries for 24 yards.

The Grangers lost the turnover battle 5-1 as any time the offense got anything going, a costly turnover would ruin a drive.

LaGrange (0-1) is set to kickoff Friday’s game in Columbus at 7:30 p.m.