By Kevin Eckleberry firstname.lastname@example.org
June 4, 2014
They knew what they had to do.
After falling to 1-2 in region play, the Troup Tigers knew that if they wanted to assure themselves of a playoff spot, they’d have to run the table in the region.
So that’s exactly what the Troup football team did.
Beginning with a 49-6 victory over the Columbus Blue Devils, the Tigers won their final four Region 5-AAAA games to wrap up the region’s third playoff spot.
The season ended with a 26-22 loss to Gilmer County in the opening round of the state playoffs, but it was still a successful season for the Tigers, who went 6-5 and returned to the playoffs after missing out in 2012.
The football team’s performance was one of the top highlights of the school year for Troup High, and we’ll be recapping that year today after taking a look back at Callaway and LaGrange on Monday and Tuesday.
On Thursday, we’ll look at the year that was for LaGrange Academy and Lafayette Christian School, and on Friday we’ll recap a big year for LaGrange College.
The Tigers got it done with a stingy defense, as well as a powerful running game led by senior Daryl Dunlap, who had at least 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight year.
Dunlap was also one of Troup’s best defensive players from his linebacker position.
“He’s fun to watch, he’s fun to coach, he’s a fun person to be around,” Troup head coach Daryl Kendall said of Dunlap.
Troup’s biggest win of the season came in the second-to-last week of the regular season when it beat LaGrange.
That win secured a playoff spot for Troup, and ultimately cost LaGrange a chance to make the playoffs.
It was also the third time in four years Troup got the best of LaGrange on the gridiron.
The Tigers have also made it to the playoffs in three of the past four years, and they won one playoff game during that span.
Kendall gave a lot of credit for the program’s success to the seniors.
“One of the things you look at is they have really committed themselves,” Kendall said. “Most of them have been with us since they were freshmen. Some of them have not been, but most of them have. They’ve accomplished a lot of things.”
In the LaGrange game, Troup was down 8-6 at the half, but it dominated the second half to win 27-8.
Dunlap had a couple of late touchdown runs to put it away.
“You try to look at who had a great game, and there were a bunch who made some big plays,” Kendall said.
The coach added that it “was a team effort. And that’s really what you’re looking for.”
After the season, five of the Troup seniors signed letters of intent to play college football, including Dunlap, who is going to San Diego State.
Troup’s other signees were Dikembe Billingslea (Point University), Devonte Cofield (Point University), Devonte Swanson (Point University) and R.J. Hairston (Garden City Community College).
“You get so close to these guys,” Kendall said on signing day. “A day like today, to see the parents happy, and the guys are happy and excited, is so great, and it gives your underclassmen something to shoot for.”
After making deep runs into the state playoffs the past few seasons, the Tigers were left on the outside looking in when the playoffs began this year.
The Tigers finished fifth in Region 5-AAAA, and of their seven region losses, five of them were by one run.
“There are things you look back on, woulda, coulda, shoulda,” Troup coach Craig Garner said. “There are some plays I’ll never forget.”
The Tigers’ playoff hopes were dashed with a pair of one-run losses to end their region schedule.
After losing to LaGrange 3-2, the Tigers lost to Shaw 7-6 to close their region schedule.
Troup also lost a pair of heart-breakers to Carrollton, which went on to claim the state championship.
Troup took a lead into the seventh inning of both games against Carrollton, only to end up losing.
In the first meeting with Carrollton, the Tigers had a two-run lead at home, and they ended up losing 5-4 in eight innings.
At Carrollton, Troup was ahead by a run going to the bottom of the seventh inning, but Carrollton won it on a walkoff home run.
“Carrollton wins the region, and yet we had them beat both games,” Garner said. “The first one hurt. To me, that started our downfall. We had a 4-2 lead, and we dropped a popup that started it.”
Troup also lost to Columbus 1-0.
The Tigers were coming off back-to-back seasons where they made it to the state semifinals.
The Tigers were hit hard by graduation following the 2013 season, though.
“We knew going in that it was going to be a year where we were going to have to sneak in,” Garner said.
In the end, the Tigers ended up one game behind the LaGrange Grangers, who went 8-6 in the region.
The future looks bright for the Tigers, though, with most of the players returning.
The Tigers are in the midst of a busy summer schedule, with three teams playing games throughout June.
“Our preparation for next year starts now,” Garner said. “It’s a process, and it starts now.”
Troup was the only one of the three local high-school teams to make it to the state playoffs.
After finishing fourth in the Region 5-AAAA tournament, the Lady Tigers traveled to the northern part of the state to play the number one seed from Region 7-AAAA.
They didn’t pull off the win, but the Lady Tigers found out they have what it takes to compete with an elite team on the state level.
Taking on Heritage in the opening round of the state tournament, Troup hung tough most of the way, only to fall short in three games.
Troup was up for much of the first game before losing 25-21, and the second game was close as well, with Heritage winning 25-17.
Heritage was able to create some separation in the third game, and it won 25-9.
“We competed the first two games really well,” Troup head coach Jodi Dowden said. “They led the first game more than half the game. They came out really strong. We came out strong again in the second game. The third game, we kind of lost the wind in our sails. We lost our mojo.”
Dowden said the season, including the state loss, will serve as a great learning tool for the returning players.
The only players the team is losing are seniors Joanna Henderson and Hannah Rollins.
“We lost two seniors. We’ll miss them, but we should be OK next year,” Dowden said. “Hopefully we’ll be back in the first round again, and we’ll have a different story next year. We’ve got a good future ahead of us.”
It was a season of what-could-have-beens for the Tigers.
Under first-year head coach Paul Brewer, the Tigers finished 6-16, but they were in nearly every game they played during the season, but they had a tough time finishing things off in close games.
While the Tigers will have to replace some key seniors, the future looks bright with some talented players returning, including Jamal Wilkerson, the team’s leading scorer.
Brewer also believes the program will benefit from the addition of some gifted middle-school players.
“We think we have some young guys that’ll help us,” he said. “We have some guys at Long Cane that had a good season. We’re looking forward to the spring and summer.”
Brewer will have a full offseason to work with the players this year, a luxury he didn’t have last season after he replaced long-time coach Thermond Billingslea.
Brewer said you have to “work the whole year, not two months. We have to keep working. That’s the only way.”
The Lady Tigers, meanwhile, struggled through a two-win season, although like the boys’ team, they were competitive in a lot of games.
Head coach Carla Thornton said the team had a tough time putting complete games together.
The third quarter of games proved particularly problematic for the Lady Tigers.
“That’s what we’re trying to do is put together a complete gam,” Thornton said. “Coming out of halftime, I don’t know what it is. We try to motivate them at halftime, but sometimes it seems like that’s when we falter. I have to figure out something, because ultimately it falls back on me. We’ll figure out something.”
A bright spot for Troup during the season was the performance of freshman guard Kwyneshia Spence, who’ll be a foundation of the program moving forward.
The Lady Tigers were unable to make it to the state playoffs, but they continued to progress under head coach Blair Shimandle.
The team’s win total has increased over the past few seasons, and during the 2013 season the Lady Tigers finished with a 13-13 record after finishing with an 11-2 win over Shaw.
The game marked the swan song for three outstanding seniors, Jordan Pike, Kalah Mingo and Alex Duncan, who helped turn the program around the past few seasons.
All three seniors had exceptional seasons.
Duncan hit close to .600 and had six home runs, and Mingo and Pike each hit better than .400.
Faced with the prospect of losing those three players during the season, coach Blair Shimandle said “I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been trying not to look too far ahead. You can get people who can play, who can get the job done, but they’re just a group of girls that you’ll never be able to replace. That’s how it is sometimes.”
Among the underclassmen, junior Hayley Morris had a phenomenal season with a .508 batting average, and sophomore Libby Wheeler also had a big year with a .438 average.
Junior Ashley Murphy hit .364, and sophomore Hanna Lane had a .345 average.
Sophomore Emily Green handled most of the pitching duties for Troup and did a terrific job.
Eight Troup High wrestlers got to experience what state-tournament wrestling is all about.
Of those eight wrestlers, Hudson Newton made it through the state sectional to reach the state finals in Class AAAA.
One Troup wrestler, Cameron Cato, entered state as an area champion.
Dakota Wilson made it to the championship round at 120 pounds in the region meet before falling.
Adam Love (138 pounds) and Jonathan Scott (170 pounds) each finished third in the area tournament, and Tyshon Cannon (126 pounds), Preston Channell (145 pounds), John Williamson (152 pounds) and Hudson Newton (220 pounds) each finished fourth to qualify for state.
Troup’s Andrew Ingram got a chance to take the water against the best swimmers in the state.
Ingram qualified for state in the 100-yard freestyle, and he competed in the state meet in Atlanta.
Drew Duram’s 31st-place finish paced the Troup boys’ team in the Region 5-AAAA meet during the fall.
Grant Blocher, Colby Scott, Hunter Blocker and Avery Lawson were the Tigers’ other top runners at the meet.
For the Lady Tigers, it was Delsi Virden leading the way, and she was followed closely by Mary Claire Finley.
Abby Barentine, Haven Benham and Hayley Phipps also ran for the Lady Tigers at the region meet, which closed the season for the Troup team.
The Tigers didn’t always have the success they wanted on the field, but they were in just about every game they played and competed well against a strong slate of opponents.
Against a LaGrange team that made it to the state quarterfinals, it was a scoreless game at the half before Troup lost 3-0.
In that same week, Troup hung tough with state-ranked Columbus before losing 3-0.
“Last year, we graduated I want to say 11 or 12 seniors,” Troup coach Pete Anderson said. “So this year, we spent most of the year kind of wondering in the woods finding ourselves. And we played good the last couple of games. I have to give credit to the kids working hard.”
Anderson added that “when you look out on the field as far as class, we had a few seniors out there, but the majority of the team are sophomores, and we had a lot of freshman as well.”
Troup’s girls’ team, meanwhile, got its region schedule started with a pair of wins to get into playoff contention, only to fall just short of a state bid in an extremely difficult Region 5-AAAA.
TRACK AND FIELD
Keya Sands enjoyed a stellar season on the track, and with her sixth-place finish at the state sectional, she earned the right to compete in the state finals in the 400-meter run.
At the state finals in Albany, Sands finished 14th.
Troup’s girls’ 1,600-meter relay team also ran at the state sectional, although it was unable to make it through to the finals.