Last updated: November 14. 2013 11:19PM - 382 Views
By - keckleberry@civitasmedia.com

Troup running back Daryl Dunlap leaves a defender behind during a game this season. Dunlap leads the Tigers with more than 1,100 rushing yards.Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News
Troup running back Daryl Dunlap leaves a defender behind during a game this season. Dunlap leads the Tigers with more than 1,100 rushing yards.Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News
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The game was in the balance.

The Troup Tigers had the lead, but it was a tenuous one, with the LaGrange Grangers trailing by just five points through three quarters.

It was time for the Tigers to take over, to seize control of the game.

As has been the case so often this season, it was the combination of Daryl Dunlap and Dre Towns that helped the Tigers take a game by the horns and turn it in their favor

On back-to-back drives, the Tigers used their powerful running game to put the ball in the end zone.

The first of those two scoring drives ended with Towns scoring on a 16-yard run, moments after Dunlap ripped off a 24-yard run.

On Troup’s next possession, the Tigers went 71 yards in seven plays - all on the ground - with Dunlap scoring on a 36-yard run to cap the scoring, and seal the victory for his team.

Troup went on to win 27-8, securing a playoff spot in the process.

The Tigers capped the regular season with a 47-20 win over Shaw last week, and once again it was an overpowering running attack - led by Dunlap and Towns - that paved the way.

As the Tigers (6-4) prepare for their playoff opener against the Gilmer County Bobcats (8-2), Dunlap and Towns will likely be key components of the game plan?

And why not?

They’ve both had terrific seasons, and both running backs have only seemed to get stronger as the year has gone along.

Dunlap has surpassed 1,000 yards for the second straight season, and he has 15 touchdown runs to go along with his 1,100 rushing yards.

Dunlap, who is also one of the team’s top defensive players, has run for more than 2,200 yards the past two seasons.

“He’s fun to watch, he’s fun to coach, he’s a fun person to be around,” Kendall said of Dunlap.

Towns has run for more than 900 yards this season, and he’ll have a chance to join Dunlap in the 1,000-yard club against Gilmer County.

Towns, who didn’t play as a sophomore before returning for his junior season, said the idea of this offense is to “keep pounding them until there isn’t anymore time on the clock.”

It’s a mindset that has helped the Tigers average 27 points per game, and they’ve scored 30 or more points in five of their games.

And while Dunlap and Towns are the two main options, they’re hardly the only running threats.

Mess Bonner has been terrific as a sophomore, and senior Devonte Swanson had two touchdown runs last week against Shaw.

Starting quarterback Will Smith is also an effective runner, as is backup quarterback Dexter Shealey.

“That’s part of our offense. We want to have some primary guys that will carry it, but we want to have other guys carrying the ball just to share the load,” Troup head coach Lynn Kendall said. “And several of them have different running styles, and they offer different assets to the running game. On top of that, you’re always trying to develop people as well.”

“From Daryl, to Dre, to Mess Bonner, to Swanson, (Brandon) Heard got some touches in there. Vanquez Bonner had some carries earlier in the year. A freshman for us, Cameron Russell had some carries. And just about everyone of them is a different type of runner.”

Kendall added that “Will Smith and Dexter Shealey, their running game is starting to be a factor, which is something we want to have as well. At any time, you’re defending three backs. And one of those backs can also throw. You’ve got a quarterback who can run and throw, then you have two running backs at any given formation.”

A year ago, that balance really wasn’t there.

Dunlap was often the beginning and ending point of the Troup offense, and he responded with a sensational junior season.

Dunlap obviously doesn’t have to carry as much of the load this year, and that’s important since he’s such a key part of the defense as well.

Dunlap, a starting linebacker, has 57 tackles, including eight tackles for loss, to go along with 11 quarterback hurries and seven pass breakups

Dunlap is happy to have Towns to take some of the pressure off.

“It does help, because I also start on defense,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap and Towns both said the offensive line, which is a strength of the team, makes their job a lot easier.

“We definitely feel better when we’re running the ball with those guys in front of you,” Dunlap said. “We’re more confident.”

Towns said he’s “very confident” a hole will usually be there.

“We have a lot of love for our offensive linemen,” Towns said. “We know they’re going to stand up when they need to.”

One of those offensive linemen, junior Jason Hernandez, said the linemen and the running backs have a great relationship.

“Pretty much every game I go to them and say, I’ll block for you, you run for me,” Hernandez said. We’re all on the same page.”

Kendall said the team’s commitment to being a physical, powerful running team didn’t happen overnight.

“This is something that we’ve been working on really going back to last November,” Kendall said. “As you go through all the phases of your off-season, and then down into the summer time, it’s a lot of reps. And it’s not where we want it. There’s still a lot of room for improvement. There are still a lot of little things that you don’t see.”

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