More than a rivalry: LaGrange and Troup showdown has major playoff implications

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The 36th edition of the LaGrange-Troup rivalry will have massive stakes on Friday night. The two teams are fighting for playoff positioning in Region 4-4A and the winner will come away with a home playoff game in the opening round of the state playoff while the loser will likely settle for a road game to start the playoffs. 

“The guys are focused and dialed in on this game,” LaGrange coach Matt Napier said. “It is one of those deals where the ball is going to bounce one way and then the other. We are going to have to weather the storm and overcome the adversities we will face in this game. With the seeding up for grabs, each team is going to want to be in the best position.”

LaGrange leads the all-time series 21-14, but the Tigers have closed the gap under Tanner Glisson, who had won six in a row over the Grangers before last season’s 38-34 loss and is 6-2 all-time versus LaGrange.

“We pride ourselves on our preparation, and this is my ninth time in this rivalry game, and we feel like consistency in preparation is the key to approaching this game,” Glisson said. “I think getting a home game is important, but I think it is just as important in who you play as where you play.”

LaGrange coach Matt Napier got his first win over the Tigers in three tries last season when his team put together a late comeback to stun the then-undefeated Troup team to book a spot in the state playoffs. Napier expects a very similar team to the one last year minus superstar quarterback Taeo Todd, of course, who is out with a season-ending injury.

“Other than one player it is not a lot different,” Napier said. “They graduated only about four seniors from last year’s team, so they are bringing most of their guys back, and (Logan) Sinkfield has plugged right into their system and has done a tremendous job.”

Sinkfield has put together a strong campaign at quarterback since stepping in for Taeo Todd halfway through Troup’s win over Whitewater. He has thrown for over 600 yards and ran for nearly 600 yards on the ground with 10 combined touchdowns. 

“This will be the biggest game he has taken snaps at from behind center,” Glisson said. “Last week was a good road test for him, and he responded.”

Glisson expects a similar LaGrange team as the one the Tigers faced last year, but one that is more likely to take some shots down the field.

“It is a tough rivalry that game is meant to be physical, and they are very similar to what they were last year except they like to take the deep shots a bit more, so we will have to prepare for that,” Glisson said. “The willingness to take deep shots and make them is a big reason for their offense. They only need two or three of those plays to put up points on the board.”

Starting quarterback Malik Kemp has settled in during his first season as the Grangers’ starting quarterback.

“He has improved week by week, and there were some early growing pains, but boy has he really become a leader for us,” Napier said. “Troup has a really talented defense, and Malik and our offense are going to be challenged like they haven’t been challenged this season.”

He has forged a strong connection with wide receivers Steven Hill and Denoryan Reid, who have combined for 34 catches and 744 yards. 

On the opposite side of the ball, LaGrange will have to keep its eyes on Noah Dixon. He is Troup’s leading receiver with 18 catches for 397 yards and seven receiving touchdowns. Dixon also has over 100 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground. 

Dixon made plays in all phases and also returned a kick for a touchdown.

Special teams could play a huge factor in the game as LaGrange has Gavin Barlow, a speedster that can return a kickoff to the house at any time. The Grangers have also relied on Mason Calhoun to kick extra points after an injury to Samuel Rodas.

“Special teams are going to have a great impact on the game,” Napier said. “Sammy has been fighting through an injury and Mason has stepped up for us in a big way. He is a young man that has ice water in his veins.

“We didn’t really know what we were going to do after the injury to Sammy (Rodas), but Mason has stepped up in a big way.”

Both teams have potent rushing attacks. Caydin Thomas and Johnathan Keys have led the way for the Grangers’ rushing attack with 947 yards combined while Ashton Williams leads the way for the Tigers with 627 yards on the ground and four touchdowns.

A pair of senior linebackers should be pivotal in the game as well. LaGrange’s Parker Shattuck is bound for the University of Alabama-Birmingham after graduating, made a monster impact in the game last season, including an interception late in the game that gave LaGrange life.

The University of Central Florida-bound Qua Birdsong is an All-American talent for the Tigers and will aim to prove it once again on Friday night.

“We haven’t given up many points all season on defense,” Glisson said. “There is a 9-1 Harris County team that we only gave up seven points to and a region championship Callaway team that we only gave up 13 to and region leader Starr’s Mill we only gave up 20,” Glisson said. “Against top quality opponents, we are letting up about two touchdowns a game, so we feel like we can compete with anybody when our defense is playing like they are.”

The game is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Callaway Stadium.