By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor
November 6, 2013
This is an unfamiliar situation for the LaGrange Grangers.
It has become a fact of life over the years that the Grangers will be in the state playoffs.
Unless an extremely unlikely scenario plays itself Friday night, though, LaGrange will be on the outside looking in when the state playoffs begin next week.
The last time the Grangers didn’t make the playoffs was 1999 when they went 2-8.
Since then, LaGrange has been in the playoffs 13 straight years, including the 2012 season when it made it to the second round
LaGrange can make the playoffs if it beats Carrollton and Alexander loses to Fayette County, but that combination of events is a long shot.
Fayette County has only won one game this season and will have a hard time competing with Alexander, and Carrollton has lost just once this season, and that was to Sandy Creek last week.
“Obviously, we’re not used to knowing that the last game (of the regular season) is your last game. We’re not used to that around here,” said Donnie Branch, LaGrange’s third-year head coach who was the defensive coordinator for many years before that. “I’ve been here a long time, and that’s only happened a couple of times.”
Branch said in times like this, “it reveals character, good or bad.”
“It reveals your personal pride, as a coach and as a player,” he added. “I expect our coaches to be coaching just like they were when we were getting ready to play Newnan (in the season opener), when everybody was all excited. And they have. The players, we expect the same thing.”
The Grangers, after going 0-3 in the non-region portion of their schedule, opened Region 5-AAAA play with back-to-back wins over Shaw and Columbus, and they won those two games by a combined score of 88-14.
In their third region game, though, the Grangers stumbled at Alexander and lost 33-19.
LaGrange then beat Fayette County before losing to Sandy Creek, setting up what was basically a must-win game against Troup last week.
The Grangers were up 8-6 at the half, but they were out-played in the second half on the way to a 27-8 loss.
The Grangers (3-6 overall) carry a 3-3 region record into Friday’s game against a Carrollton team that is smarting after losing to Sandy Creek last week.
The Trojans (8-1, 5-1) will finish second in the region behind Sandy Creek.
“Obviously, you’re let down. Obviously, you’re disappointed,” Branch said. “Heck, you’re crushed. But at the same time, what kind of character do you have, and what kind of personal pride do you have? And we’ve had some kids decide not to be with us. That’s the way it goes. Our deal is, I feel like it’s a commitment to your teammates. You play football because you love it, and you love your teammates.”
Branch said this season, which has been a difficult one, has given the players “a whole bunch of opportunities to learn a life lesson.”
“It doesn’t always work out, you don’t get the promotion,” Branch added. “You get beat, you blow a game, you have adversity. How do you handle it? What are you about? Some guys have handled it well, and some guys haven’t. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
Branch said his message to the players this week is to play with pride and to do their best to represent their program in a positive manner.
“I’m from the school of, you’ve got the Granger helmet on, you’ve got the Granger uniform on, you’ve got the Granger teammates beside you, no matter who you play, where you play, you ought to play your guts out for 48 minutes, regardless of the scoreboard,” Branch said. “That’s what we expect.”