It’s LaGrange vs. Troup at Callaway Stadium on Friday night in the renewal of their classic rivalry.
And while the game is always a big one regardless of records, the showdown takes on added importance this season because of where the teams sit in the region.
Both teams come into the game at 3-2 in Region 5-AAAA as they attempt to earn a spot in the state playoffs.
The Grangers (4-4 overall) are looking to improve over their past two games, one being the loss at Fayette County in overtime two weeks ago, and last week’s loss to No. 1-ranked Sandy Creek.
The game for both teams has playoff implications.
If the Grangers win, at the least they’d participate in a mini-playoff after the regular season ends for a spot in the state playoffs.
LaGrange would definitely be in the playoffs if it beats Troup on Friday and Carrollton next week.
Troup, meanwhile, can finish third in the region with a win over LaGrange and a victory over Shaw in the regular-season finale.
“We know if we win this game, we’re not done next week when we play Carrollton,” LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch said. “We could be in third place, in fourth place or we could be in a tie and have a mini-game. So we know a win here would buy us postseason play based on how other games come out.”
There are a lot of different scenarios for LaGrange.
In the best case, LaGrange would win the next two games and finish second in the region.
“Our goal is to beat a good Troup team and then play Carrollton on Thursday night for second place to host (a playoff game),” Branch said. “We can still host. We’ve got to play good football which we haven’t played in a few weeks, but we’re capable of doing it.”
LaGrange hasn’t won a game since Oct. 12 when it defeated Alexander to move to 3-0 in the region.
Then came the two losses to Fayette County and Sandy Creek.
“I thought the Fayette game was by far our worst game of the year,” Branch said of the 38-35 overtime loss. “It wasn’t even close to how we play. We didn’t play well in any area. The only positive to the Fayette game was when it couldn’t get any worse, our kids responded which to me says a lot about them through the negative of a game.”
Trailing 35-14 in the fourth quarter, LaGrange rallied for three touchdowns to force overtime.
Still, Branch was displeased with the effort.
“We were poor in the kicking game. We were poor defensively,” he said. “We were poor offensively early and we couldn’t have gotten any worse when things were going as bad as they could go. Our backs were against the wall. We responded and rallied and got it into overtime and had a poor offensive series in overtime and we got beat.”
As for Friday’s game, Branch believes the Grangers are prepared to play at a high level.
“I really expect us to play our best game of the year,” Branch said.
Branch said a key for his team will be trying to find a way to slow down Troup running back Daryl Dunlap, the 6-foot-3 junior who rushed for 313 yards against Columbus two weeks ago.
Dunlap had another big game last week against Fayette County.
“He is the guy,” Branch said. “He’s the heart and soul. He’s the guy who makes them go on offense. He’s very strong. He has good speed, a tremendous competitor. He’s been a great player since I’ve known him. He’s not a great running back. He’s a great football player.”
Dunlap also plays defensive end and has played in a variety of positions since he was a freshmen.
Another Troup player, defensive back and running back Lemonta Truitt, also has Branch’s attention.
Truitt scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter last week, including the game-winning touchdown catch.
“Truitt is a really good player. I always thought he was good on offense, but he’s a good defensive back,” Branch said. “He made the state all-star game as the (defensive back).
“This year he’s expanded his role on defense. I think they have got four or five (Division I) kids on defense.”
Another key to Troup’s success is its offensive line, which paved the way for last wee’s offensive success, providing quarterback Will Smith enough time to look for open receivers.
Branch noted his scouts took notice of Troup’s offensive line play, especially in the fourth quarter last week.
Branch also has a lot of respect for Troup’s coaching staff, which is led by head coach Lynn Kendall.
Kendall became the head coach following the dismissal of Charles Flowers, who’d been the head coach the previous two seasons.
“I admire coach Kendall and his staff. It was a tough situation to go in,” Branch said. “He was dropped in a situation where there were a lot of factions. They had a lot of changeover in staff, some guys left them, some players left and when they reshuffled the thing, his job was to try to lead them and guide them and get them on the right track. That was a real task and I think it’s a credit to him and his staff and their kids to figure it out and keep improving.”
As for the Grangers, Branch is hopeful running back Benny Gray will be able to go Friday.
Gray has a cracked bone in his ankle, and he wore a cast last week.
The cast has been removed, and Gray has been working out on it, and he practiced with the team on Wednesday.
He joined his teammates in running through the Granger offense, taking handoffs from junior quarterback Zach Giddens and splitting out to play wide receiver.
“Benny is working his way back to being healthy,” Branch said. “He’s still a question mark. When you’re in cast last week and you may play this week, that’s a pretty good recovery. He’s got a cracked bone in his ankle, non-weight baring. He has no contact this week.”
In other injury news, defensive lineman Chris Manning also suffered a slight concussion last week and is expected to return to action on Friday.
Another defensive lineman, Joe Sanders, suffered a hand injury earlier in the season and that ailment is also improving.
One player who won’t be back this week is defensive lineman Dazmon Dunlap, who suffered a serious concussion in the game against Fayette County two weeks ago.
He will sit about about a month, meaning he could come back for the playoffs.
“Those that are with us are all getting better,” Branch said of the injured players. “We’ll see Friday who can go and who can’t.”
If Gray can’t go again, senior Demoton Boyd will once again be the primary option at running back.
A freshman, Kimani Barnes, has been called up and has been getting reps at running back.
“Demoton Boyd is a quality back,” Branch noted. “He’s different than Benny (Gray). Benny’s a little more inside power runner. Demonton is a little more speed edge runner. It’s really good when we have both, because they both play and you get a little thunder and lightning kind of thing.”
Also, freshman Emmanuel Mann is expected to see action at defensive tackle after being moved up.
Mann and Barnes both were starters on the freshmen team.
“We’ve had to have some kids rise up to help take the place (of injured and suspended players),” Branch said.