November 4, 2013
It was, in a difficult year, one of the low points.
The Troup Tigers came into the LaGrange game in 2012 having won two straight games, and they felt like they had a great chance to beat their cross-town rival for the third straight season.
Instead, it was LaGrange claiming the 35-20 victory, and Troup went on to lose to Shaw the following week to miss the playoffs and put the cap on a 3-7 season.
The feeling in the Troup camp, obviously, is a whole lot different a year later.
The Tigers trailed at the half of Friday’s game against the Grangers, but they took over in the second half and won 27-8.
It was impressive stuff.
Troup’s defense, which has been so outstanding this season, overpowered LaGrange’s offense in the second half.
The Grangers didn’t get a first down in the second half until their fifth possession, and the game was over by that point.
And Troup’s offense did what it usually does.
The Tigers aren’t out to fool anyone on offense.
They use a power running game to wear down defenses, and that plan worked Friday, with the Tigers scoring touchdowns on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter, with Daryl Dunlap and Dre Towns doing most of the damage.
By the time Dunlap waltzed into the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown with 5:47 left in the game, the outcome was decided.
“To their credit, they’re a big, physical offensive line, and their running backs run really hard,” LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch said. “They were patient, and they pounded the football.”
It’s a recipe that has worked pretty well for the Tigers this season.
Combine a terrific defense with a run-oriented offense that pounds out first downs and gets better as the game goes along, and there’s a reason the Tigers are heading to the state playoffs.
Troup (5-4) will be the number three seed from Region 5-AAAA, and it can wrap up a winning regular season with a win over Shaw on Friday.
“That’s our goal now, is having a winning record, and that’s a great turnaround from last year,” Troup head coach Lynn Kendall said.
As for LaGrange, it’s been a tough season.
The Grangers (3-6) still have an outside shot at making the playoffs, but the odds are extremely long.
Two things have to happen.
LaGrange has to beat a Carrollton team that is 8-1, and is also probably angry after losing to Sandy Creek last week.
Also, Alexander has to lose to a Fayette County team that has won just once all season.
It’s sports, and has been proven throughout history, anything can happen.
Realistically, though, the Grangers are looking at missing the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
If the Grangers lose to the Trojans Friday night, their 3-7 record would be the program’s worst since that 1999 team went 2-8.
The Grangers have dealt with major injuries, most notably to their quarterback, Zach Giddens, who has played less than one quarter this year.
In addition to the injuries, Branch said “we’ve had issues we’ve never had before.”
If the season comes to a close as expected Friday night, Branch and the other coaches will begin to look as what needs to be done to get the ship righted heading into next season.
“It’s been rough,” Branch said. “It’s been a rough year. But I am smart enough to know how to fix it. It may not be fun. Basically, we have guys that aren’t bought in.”
The Grangers will lose some gifted seniors, including running back Benny Gray, who has had a terrific season on both sides of the ball.
LaGrange does have a lot of talent returning, though, and a defense that struggled this season should be greatly improved with most of the players coming back.
As for Troup, life is just fine at the moment.
The Tigers have won three in a row, and they’ve outscored their opponents 109-20 during that stretch.
Troup can also take a lot of satisfaction in that it has the upper-hand in a rivalry that has been mostly dominated by LaGrange over the years.
The Tigers have won three of their past four meetings with the Grangers.
“I’m really happy for several of our coaches who are Troup alumni,” Kendall said. “They’ve been going at this game longer than I have. Of course I’ve been here awhile, too.”
While ending up on the winning side obviously makes the game a lot more enjoyable, Kendall said win or lose, it is always a special night when LaGrange and Troup play.
“What a great rivalry it is. It’s great for our community,” Kendall said. “We add another layer to the competition this year with the battle of the harvest, which is pretty exciting. We raised a lot of food for the Salvation Army. This game has a lot of interest for a lot of people, instead of just being the football part.”
The Callaway Cavaliers, meanwhile, just keep rolling right along under head coach Pete Wiggins.
The Cavaliers are most likely on the verge of a second straight 9-1 regular season, and they’ve already wrapped up a second consecutive region championship.
Wiggins took over as the Callaway head coach in 2005, and with the help of a staff that has remained mostly intact over the years, he has built a consistent, winning program.
The Cavaliers are in the state playoffs for the eighth straight season, and they’ve won at least one state game in four of the past five years.
If the Cavaliers make it to 10 wins this season, that will mark the fourth time in six years they will have reached double digits in victories.
That is impressive, and it doesn’t happen by accident.
Callaway has a dedicated, gifted group of coaches, and they have had players that have bought into the program.
“We always talk about preparation, and preparing yourself for when we get to the game,” Wiggins said. “There’s so much that goes into getting to a game on Friday nights.”
The Cavaliers lost their first two games of the 2011 season, but since then they’re 26-5, and it looks like they’ve got a lot more winning to do this year.
It’s a good time to be a Callaway Cavalier, and hats off to everyone involved with the program for all the success.
It is well-deserved.