When the Grangers visit Fayette County Friday, they may be without five players who were starting when the season began.
One of those players, linebacker Derrick Johnson, has moved to Newnan with his family, and he’s now playing for the Newnan Cougars.
“We’ve got a challenge now,” Branch said. “We lost him (Johnson) and he’s gone. Great kid, good mom. It was a family situation. Great kid, he cried. He was devastated when he left. He played baseball here too. He was a great kid. So one day he’s gone and we’ve got another kid in there.”
Branch said Johnson’s replacement, senior Jordan Phillips is a very capable player who has had to step in during a difficult situation.
“He’s a good kid,” Branch said of Phillips. “He’s doing well. We’ve kind of adjusted with that.”
Two players have had injury issues and their status for Friday is questionable.
Defensive end Joe Sanders is dealing with a hand and shoulder injury, and junior safety Tycorey Gilbert has a hip injury.
Neither player has practiced this week. and Branch said he won’t know until game day if either will play.
“They’re banged up,” Branch said. “We don’t know their status.”
Also, two other starters will sit out the game for disciplinary reasons.
“There’s been a little bit of chaos,” Branch said. “The thing about coaching you learn a long time ago is you’ve got to learn to make adjustments. Fayette County is a challenge already and we’ve got some of our own challenges.”
Fayette County (1-5, 1-2 in Region 5-AAAA) only has one win, but it came last week against Columbus.
The Tigers had big rushing numbers in their 41-7 victory over Columbus.
“Their record is not good, but their personnel looks good and offensively they’ve run the football against everybody,” Branch said.
Before last week, Branch said Fayette County was its own worst enemy.
“They’ve self-destructed (with) fumbles, penalties, bogging down in the red zone,” he said.
Last week, Fayette County corrected a lot of those problems, and the result was an impressive win.
“They run the football really well,” Branch said. “They run the option. It requires a lot of discipline and a lot of responsibility. They’re banking on you not doing what you’re supposed to do. They run it well. It’s a challenge for us.”
LaGrange (4-2, 3-0 in region play) is coming off a 42-28 win over a winless Alexander team.
LaGrange was up 42-7 in the second half before Alexander scored 21 straight points.
“I didn’t think we were really good at any point,” Branch said. “We got the job done and they weren’t scoring, but I just wasn’t satisfied how we were playing. We were playing average and then we were playing below average. It wasn’t a great defensive performance.”
So this week, Branch said LaGrange has been working on responsibility, better foot work, and better technique and pad level issues.
LaGrange will also look to avoid the turnover bug.
Last week, the Grangers had three straight turnovers in the second half.
“It wasn’t as good as it needed to be,” Branch said of the performance against Alexander. “We need to play a lot better. Right now we’re trying to gather it back up. Anytime we’ve struggled its like been the game we’ve turned the ball over. When we don’t turn it over, things run pretty smooth. You could say that about most teams.”
After this week, LaGrange will turn its attention to Sandy Creek, the state’s top-ranked Class AAAA team.
LaGrange hosts Sandy Creek on Oct. 26.
“I think they’re excited about the possibility,” Branch said of the upcoming game against the No. 1 team in Georgia. “They (the team) know what a challenge that’s going to be.”
Branch said the team’s attention is fully devoted to Fayette County right now, though.
“Our full focus from a coaching standpoint and a teaching standpoint has been on Fayette County,” he said. “Based on how we finished that game (against Alexander) the other day, we have no option than to 100 percent prepare, with the injuries we’ve had, we better take care of this.
“They (Fayette County) were popping long runs against Carrollton (in a 44-13 loss) in the first and second quarter against their best people. That got my attention quick.”
To help out the defense, Branch said a strong offensive effort would help.
“Your best friend on defense is an offense scoring,” Branch said.