LaGrange loses region opener to Starr’s Mill

Published 11:14 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

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LaGrange could not find much rhythm in its region opener on Friday, falling 21-7 to Starr’s Mill on the road. 

“I’m frustrated that we did not capitalize on some opportunities that we had, but we can’t let this game beat us twice,” LaGrange coach Matt Napier said. “We have to go back and work on some things, but I’m happy with the guys’ effort tonight.”

It was just a season ago when the Grangers lost a overtime thriller at home to the Panthers, which ended up being the final loss of the season for LaGrange until the playoffs. 

Napier is hoping for a similar response from his team this season.

“We are a senior-laden veteran group, and I would expect nothing less from this group of kids,” Napier said. “They work hard and these games mean a lot to these guys, you can see it in their eyes.”

Friday’s game was truly one of missed chances for the Grangers. The team had two missed field goals, numerous penalties and a couple of costly turnovers.

“You can’t win when turning the ball over,” Napier said. “We have to clean that up, but give them credit they are a good football team and made some big plays on defense.”

The costly play was an interception that was returned 80 yards for a touchdown by the Panthers to put the home team up 14-7 with 5:04 left in the third quarter.

A 43-yard touchdown run by the Panthers on fourth down to start the fourth quarter was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

The game was a true defensive slugfest with neither team able to get much offense going in the first half. 

It looked like the Panthers might break the deadlock in the first quarter, but the Grangers were able to force a fumble and Yashawn Butler was able to jump on it at the one-yard line to give LaGrange possession.

The Grangers’ scrappy defense kept them in the game for the first three quarters.

“We have a tough physical defense, and that is a tough physical offense that we just played,” Napier said. 

LaGrange had a chance to take a lead when Malik Kemp hit Steven Hill for a 45-yard pass to set up the Grangers in plus territory. Unfortunately, the Grangers could not capitalize as a 32-yard field goal was partially blocked.

Hill had another monster game for the Granger wide receiving core.

“Steven Hill is an elite player for us,” Napier said.

The Panthers were eventually able to take the lead when they punched the ball in on fourth and goal just inches away from the end zone. 

LaGrange trailed less than a minute before tying the game on a 67-yard touchdown connection between Kemp and Denorayon Reid with 2:15 left to play in the first half.

The Grangers had another chance to take the lead with 8:44 left in the third quarter, but a field goal sailed wide left. 

From there, the game unraveled for the Grangers on the road.

LaGrange (2-2) will look to bounce back at home next week against region foe Whitewater. It will be the first home game for the Grangers since week one. 

“We have another big region game next week, so it is back to the drawing board to get prepared for another big game,” Napier said.