It was in their grasp.
The LaGrange Grangers had a 14-0 lead midway through the fourth quarter, and it looked like they were headed for a huge win over the Callaway Cavaliers on opening night.
When the dust cleared and the final snap had been taken, though, it was the Cavaliers, not the Grangers, doing the celebrating.
The Cavaliers rallied for 14 points in the final six minutes of regulation to tie it, and they scored a touchdown in overtime to pull off the 20-14 win.
It hurt, but all the Grangers could do was put the game behind them.
“Once it’s over, it’s over,” said Jeremiah Wright, a linebacker and running back for the Grangers. “We’re moving on.”
It was, after all, just the first game of many the Grangers will play this season.
“We’re promised nine more,” LaGrange head coach Dialleo Burks said. “To sit and cry over this one, no, we can’t do it. We have nine more games we’re promised.”
When the Grangers returned to the school on Sunday to look at film, they turned their attention to another big game.
On Friday, before what will be another huge crowd at Callaway Stadium, LaGrange and Troup will renew their rivalry.
It will be another big challenge for the Grangers.
Troup has won three out of its past four games against LaGrange, and that includes a 27-8 victory last season.
Troup, which played Upson-Lee in a preseason game on Aug. 15, will be making its regular-season debut.
The Tigers, who are in their third season with Lynn Kendall as the head coach, got it done against LaGrange last season with a power running game.
Daryl Dunlap and Dre Towns chewed up huge chunks of yardage behind an imposing offensive line, and quarterback Will Smith made some big plays in the passing game.
The offensive formula doesn’t figure to change much this season.
Dunlap graduated, but Towns and Smith, along with most of the offensive linemen, are back.
“I’m really good friends with coach Kendall. He’s an upstanding guy,” Burks said. “He has his football team playing hard. That’s what you want. You want to play hard, play with heart, and they have athletes, too. I like Will, some of the things that he has done. I like Dre Towns the running back, and that line, they are always big.”
Burks said offensively the Tigers are “going to come right at you. It’s the same thing constantly. That’s what they’re doing.”
LaGrange’s defense stood tall for most of the night against Callaway.
The Cavaliers were held scoreless for more than three quarters, but they were able to put together back-to-back scoring drives to tie it.
It was the first start for many of the LaGrange defensive players.
“That was the first game,” Wright said. “As we go along I think we’ll have more experience. We’ll be better.”
There were plenty of bright spots offensively for the Grangers.
Mon Denson ran for more than 100 yards behind a strong offensive line, and Wright and Kimani Barnes each had touchdown runs.
Sophomore quarterback Amad Ogletree, who was making his first start, did some nice things, including a 40-yard scramble late in the fourth quarter that looked like it might seal the victory.
Unfortunately for the Grangers, a fumble gave the Cavaliers time to drive down for the tying score.
Callaway converted a third-and-21 play from their own 10-yard line to keep that game-tying possession alive, with Nick Woodyard making a nice catch on the sideline.
“It was third-and-21. Let them catch a 10-yard route and come up and tackle them,” Burks said. “But if you convert a third-and-21, that’s saying a lot. It was a great catch. The receiver got both feet down in bounds. It was total concentration on the ball. That was a pro-style catch.”
The Cavaliers did what they had to do late to win the game.
“When you have guys of that caliber, they can go off at any minute, and that’s what they did,” Burks said. “They took advantage of our mistakes, and they closed the deal.”
Burks knew how challenging of a game it would be against the second-ranked team in Class AAA, and he believes his players will be better for having been involved in it.
“I wanted them to see the situation for what it was, how to act in the situation, and to learn from it, and we did,” Burks said. “We learned a lot from that game. If we’re in that situation again, we’ll know how to handle it.”
The Grangers will get to put what they learned to the test this week in what will be another emotionally-charged game.
“It’s going to be a great contest, same atmosphere,” Burks said. “What more do you want? It’ll be one or two plays again. We expect them to make those plays.”