Last season, the Shaw High football team advanced to the playoffs as the fourth seed out of Region 5-AAAA despite losing a key region-opener to LaGrange.
It’ll play from behind again this season, as the visiting Grangers rolled to a 30-7 win on Friday at Kinnett Stadium.
Three teams, including LaGrange and Shaw, finished within one game of each other in the region a year ago, and with Sandy Creek and Carrollton looking like the odds on favorites to take the top two spots in the region once again, this game was a big one for both teams.
“This was a big one,” said LaGrange coach Donnie Branch, whose Grangers looked much more like the playoff team it was last year than a team that had stumbled to three straight losses to begin the season. “We played three games with a ton of penalties and a ton of turnovers to start the year. We played a lot of bad football. I knew we were better than we were playing, and I told the guys that our record is clean now.”
Or 1-0 after Friday night.
LaGrange demonstrated its ability early in the game, winning the battle up front, gashing the Raiders for 115 rushing yards in the first half, and scoring rushing touchdowns on each of their first three possessions.
After a tipped punt set LaGrange up at the Shaw 35 for its first possession, it took only six plays to punch in its first score, a 2-yard run by Benny Gray. That run was set up by a 21-yard pass from quarterback Wynton Heard, filling in for the team’s regular starter, to receiver Quan Delaney on third and 10, a conversion that would become a trend over the next to LaGrange possessions, as well.
After forcing Shaw into its second straight three-and-out to start the game, LaGrange drove 64 yards in just over five minutes, going 2 of 2 on third downs and punching in the score on a 28-yard run by running back Mon Denson. The Grangers elected to go for two points after both their first two scores, and Heard was successful on keepers for both, making it an early 16-0 lead for LaGrange.
After a Raiders score cut the lead to 16-7 early in the second quarter, the Grangers quickly responded, going 56 yards in four minutes, culminating on a 7-yard scoring run by Gray to make it 23-7 going into the half. LaGrange converted 3 of 3 third downs on that drive.
Overall, the Grangers were 6 of 7 on third downs in the first half.
“They did a good job executing,” Shaw coach Kyle Adkins said of the LaGrange offense. “They beat us at the point of attack. I thought we had some opportunities to stop them on some key downs. Some of it was nice execution (by LaGrange), some of it was mistakes by us.”
Branch praised his running backs, calling them the “heart and soul of the offense.”
“We always need them to pound the football,” he said. “We’ve got a really big offensive line. And Shaw has a great defense. We were just able to sustain some drives.”
Gray added a 6-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and finished with 25 carries for 108 yards and three touchdowns, while Denson had 11 for 91 and a score.
Despite a strong second half for the Shaw defense, the Grangers outgained Shaw 199-67 on the ground and 253-178 overall in the game.
Shaw found offensive success on one first-half drive. Set up at the 50-yard line after a good return by Jakobi Long, the Raiders went 50 yards in four minutes, ending in a 3-yard run by quarterback Tyron Huff. With an opportunity to cut the lead to nine going into the half, Shaw committed the game’s first turnover in LaGrange territory to keep at 23-7 at halftime. It committed two more later in the game, further hindering its progress on offense.
Huff completed 16 of 23 passes for 111 yards to go with his rushing touchdown.
“We’ve got some young guys on both sides of the ball, and we’ve just got to keep getting better,” Adkins said.
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Friday at Kinnett Stadium
LaGrange 16 7 7 0—30
Shaw 0 7 0 0—7
L—Benny Gray 2 run (Wyton Heard run); 8:18
L—Mon Denson 28 run (Heard run); 1:47
S—Tyron Huff 3 run (Hunter Eaton kick); 9:34
L—Gray 7 run (Tyler Stanford kick); 5:24
L—Gray 6 run (Stanford kick); 7:31
Records: LaGrange, 1-3, 1-0; Shaw, 2-2, 0-1. Next: LaGrange, Oct. 4 vs. Columbus at LaGrange; Shaw, Oct. 4 at Alexander.