It’s not just another game.
It’s a time-honored cliché coaches like to throw out there when their team is getting ready for a particularly meaningful game.
“It’s just another game,” coach so-and-so will say, even though he knows how untrue that is.
Some games are bigger.
Some games do mean more.
Some games mean a lot more.
Such is the case whenever LaGrange and Troup get together.
Whether they’ve in the same region, the same classification, whether one team is really good and the other one is struggling, or whether both teams are having outstanding seasons, this game always means a lot.
It is the furthest thing from just another game.
LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch and Troup head coach Lynn Kendall have both acknowledged that.
They know how important this game is to the players, and to the community.
Still, when all of the pre-game festivities are over with, after the national anthem has been played, after the captains have been introduced and the coin flip made, after the banner breakthroughs, it’ll be time to play football.
“There’s going to be that adrenaline push that happens early in the game, for both teams,” Kendall said. “And that’s going to burn off, and then it becomes a football game. You have to get down to business and play hard, and I think the key is to be able to manage that adrenaline.
“After a few hits and things get going, all that’s over with, and you’re playing a football game.”
It is, beyond the rivalry aspect of the game, and beyond the fact that the winning players will have bragging rights for the next year, a huge game with all sorts of playoff implications.
With a win, Troup (4-4 overall, 3-2 in Region 5-AAAA) will secure a playoff spot.
As for LaGrange (3-5, 3-2), this is a game it almost certainly has to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.
The Grangers haven’t missed the playoffs since 1999, and that streak would be in major jeopardy with a win tonight.
The Tigers, meanwhile, missed the playoffs a year ago, in large part because of a 35-20 loss to LaGrange.
In 2011 and 2012, Troup won in back-to-back years for the first time in the history of the rivalry.
What will this year’s game offer?
Will LaGrange make it two in a row and greatly strengthen its playoff position?
Or will Troup win for the third time in four years against LaGrange, and perhaps knock its biggest rival out of the playoff chase in the process?
There is so much to play for tonight, so much on the line, and the game could obviously go either way.
The teams have the same region record, and there’s only one game separating their overall records.
A convincing argument could be made either way.
Troup is a confident ball club.
The Tigers are coming off two blowout victories, albeit over two of the region’s bottom teams, Columbus and Fayette County.
But Troup also hung tough in a 21-0 loss to a powerful Sandy Creek team, and it beat an Alexander team that is having a good year.
Troup also had chances to beat two other quality teams, Newnan and Callaway.
Troup’s defense has been superb most of the season, and the offense has been getting the job done with running backs Daryl Dunlap and Dre Towns leading the way.
LaGrange, meanwhile, has been able to put up 28 points per game, even without quarterback Zach Giddens.
Giddens was going to be the trigger man in LaGrange’s spread offense this season, but he has only been on the field for a few minutes this year because of an injury.
Still, with running backs Benny Gray and Mon Denson getting it done, and with Wynton Heard filling in admirably at quarterback, the Grangers have rarely had trouble moving the ball.
LaGrange has struggled defensively, but this is a unit that only allowed a total of 14 points in back-to-back wins over Shaw and Columbus, so the potential is there.
So who has the edge?
Will Troup continue its solid play and punch its ticket to the playoffs?
Or will LaGrange get its biggest win of the season, and move a step closer to the playoffs?
I suspect it will be a close game, and it could - as is so often the case in these types of games - come down to the team that hangs on to the ball.
I hope both teams play their absolute best and put on a thrilling show for the thousands of fans who’ll fill up the stands at Callaway Stadium.
Only one team can win, though, and I think it’ll be Troup.
The Tigers have been so stingy on defense, and their power running game has been so hard to stop.
This is a solid, veteran Troup team that has gotten better and better.
LaGrange has plenty in its favor as well, and you know the men in blue believe they have what it takes to get it done.
I’ll take Troup in a thriller, though.
It won’t be easy, it never is against the Grangers, but look for the Tigers to get a hard-earned win tonight.
Whatever happens, it should be fun, and I can’t wait to see how the story unfolds.
See you at the stadium.
MY PICK: Troup 21-20
CALLAWAY AT DOUGLASS: The Cavaliers can sew up a second straight Region 4-AAA championship with a win today, and they’ll make it happen.
All signs point to a repeat of last year’s game, which Callaway won 54-16.
While Callaway, with the exception of last week’s 10-point win over B.E.S.T. Academy, has breezed through the region schedule, Douglass hasn’t won a region game.
The Cavaliers, especially on the heels of a performance against B.E.S.T. that they probably felt wasn’t up to their high standards, will look to come out tonight and take care of business, and this has the look of one of those games where the starters will be resting comfortably on the bench in the third quarter.
Look for the Cavaliers to play well tonight, and earn another region title in the process.
MY PICK: 49-6