My favorite part of Friday’s game actually came after the final horn sounded.
After the well-deserved celebration by the LaGrange Grangers, and after the post-game handshakes, the players from LaGrange and Troup gathered on the field for a quiet moment together.
There were LaGrange players next to Troup players, Granger coaches next to Tiger coaches.
The players and coaches from both schools bowed their heads, put their arms around each other, and they prayed together.
That’s the way it ought to be.
During the game, these rivals are trying to knock each others heads off, and they’re doing anything (within the rules of course) to beat each other, but once it’s over, they are neighbors once again, and what better way to show that then by getting together like that.
That display of sportsmanship, by the way, came after 48 minutes of genuine intensity and competitiveness as the two rivals fought as hard as they could.
And that, too, is the way it ought to be.
These are teams that respect each other, yet they want nothing more than to get the upperhand to earn bragging rights in the county for another year.
For two years, those bragging rights have belonged to Troup.
After losing to LaGrange for six straight seasons, Troup won in 2010 and 2011, giving it back-to-back wins in the series for the first time ever.
The Tigers, coming off their riveting, come-from-behind win over Fayette County the week before, were hoping to ride that wave of emotion to a third straight victory over the Grangers.
It wasn’t meant to be.
LaGrange, which has been such a potent offensive team all season, scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions to build a 28-7 halftime lead.
The Tigers tried to make a game of it in the second half, and they scored the game’s final 14 points, but it was too little too late as the Grangers walked away with a 35-20 victory.
It was perhaps LaGrange’s most complete performance of the season.
While the offense was doing its usual thing, LaGrange’s defense was up to the challenge as well.
A defense that had been pushed around a bit the previous few weeks delivered a strong performance.
The Tigers scored a touchdown on their opening possession, but they didn’t score another offensive point until late in the fourth quarter.
As for that offense, it was on-target in the first half.
Junior quarterback Zach Giddens, who has been terrific since Day 1 this season, threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Dee Smith on a screen pass, and he found Tavone Rivers for a 2-yard scoring pass.
Giddens also scored on a quarterback keeper, and Demoton Boyd had a pair of touchdown runs, one in each half.
“Overall, I was very, very proud of our effort,” LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch said. “Our offense, in the first half, was clicking. Zach was really good.”
As for the defense, Branch said “that’s the first time we’ve played any defense in awhile. We swapped a little personnel here and there. It was fun to see us flying around and hitting.”
Branch also said “our kicking game, other than one kickoff was pretty good. We did a lot of good things.”
For Troup, the game started great.
The Tigers marched down the field on their opening possession and scored a touchdown, with junior running back Daryl Dunlap scoring on a 14-yard run.
The Tigers then gave up 35 straight points covering the first half and the first possession of the second half, though, to fall into a big hole.
Troup didn’t quit.
The Tigers got a big defensive play in the third quarter when Maurice Swain came up with the ball after Giddens got hit and raced 40 yards for the touchdown.
Then in the fourth quarter, Troup quarterback Will Smith floated a pass into the end zone, and Malcolm Tatum out-leaped his defender to make a 29-yard touchdown catch.
The Tigers were down 35-20, although there was less than four minutes to play.
It wasn’t enough time.
LaGrange ran out the clock on its ensuing possession, and that was that.
“As the game went back-and-forth, I thought we had some chances,” Troup head coach Lynn Kendall said. “We almost got momentum there (in the second half) and couldn’t quite hang onto it.”
Still, in a game that was turning into a blowout, Troup managed to make things semi-interesting late.
“I’m proud of Maurice Swain making big plays, Daryl Dunlap for running hard, and Will Smith under pressure throwing the ball well and conducting things,” Kendall said. “We could go on.”
Kendall’s biggest regret was a second-half possession that saw the Tigers make it deep into LaGrange territory and come away with no points.
Kendall also said a couple of turnovers and some key penalties in the first half proved costly.
“I’m proud of our kids for coming back in the second half and battling,” Kendall said. “I thought we got the ball down here around the 4-yard line and couldn’t punch it in. That was kind of the turning point. That was an opportunity that we didn’t capitalize on. But still, to the very end, we got ourselves in position.”
So, a few days removed from the big game, where do both teams stand?
LaGrange’s position is more favorable.
The Grangers are in the playoffs, and they’ll be a two seed out of Region 5-AAAA if they win Thursday against Carrollton, and a three seed if they lose.
For Troup, losing is not an option.
Troup and Shaw will face off Friday night at Kinnett Stadium in Columbus, and the stakes couldn’t be any higher.
If Troup wins, it will be the region’s number four seed for the state playoffs.
If the Tigers lose, their season is done.
The suspense, folks, is just getting started.
CAVS KEEP ROLLING: Callaway also played a game at Callaway Stadium last week, and there was no suspense in this one.
I’ve seen a lot of blowouts over the years, but never anything like what I witnessed on Thursday between Callaway and Douglass.
The Cavaliers scored 47 points (yes, that number is correct) in the first quarter.
They scored seven touchdowns in 12 minutes.
The Cavaliers scored a defensive touchdown, a special-teams touchdown, and five offensive touchdowns.
And Douglass didn’t help itself by continually throwing the ball in the first quarter, and most of the passes fell incomplete, which only served to stretch things out.
By the start of the second quarter, Callaway’s reserves were already in the game, and the coaches for both teams decided to go ahead with a running clock instead of waiting until the second half.
If Callaway’s starters had remained in the game for the whole first half, we could have been looking at a triple-digit score.
There was no way Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins was going to do that, though, so he made sure his reserves got plenty of playing time.
The end result of the 54-16 victory and a Region 4-AAA championship for the Cavaliers.
Callaway, since dropping its season opener to Heard County, has won eight straight games, and the Cavaliers can close out a 9-1 regular season with a win over Rockmart this week.
Wiggins said the success of the team is a credit to a whole lot of people.
“I’m real proud for these guys, and for our community,” Wiggins said. “We have great support, and I just appreciate everyone involved for making Callaway football pretty special.”
PRIVATE-SCHOOL SUCCESS: Congratulations to the Lafayette Christian School football team, which closed out the best season in school history with a loss in the opening round of the eight-man football state playoffs Friday night.
It wasn’t the way the Cougars wanted to end things, but in sports, there’s only one team that finishes a season with a smile on its face, and that’s the champion.
Hats off as well to the Dawson Street Christian School Wildcats, whose win streak stands at four after beating David Emmanuel Friday night.
The Wildcats, with one game remaining in the regular season, have a chance to sew up the number two seed in GISA Region 1-A with a win.
The Wildcats are heading to the state playoffs regardless, but you know they’d love to have a home game in the playoffs, and they’ll get that with a win this week.