LAGRANGE, Ga. — The No. 34 is synonymous with great running backs.
Walter Payton. Herschel Walker. Bo Jackson. Earl Campbell.
LaGrange's Mon Denson did a reasonable impersonation of those all-time greats Thursday night at Callaway Stadium. The senior ran for 247 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries, leading LaGrange to a 35-24 victory over Northside.
Afterward, Patriots coach Morgan Ingram made no excuses.
"They're a good, physical football team. We had a hard time stopping their running game," he said. " They had a hard time stopping our running game. We just came out on the short end."
The loss dropped the Patriots (4-6, 3-3 Region 1-AAAAA) to the 4-seed when the playoffs begin next week. They will head on the road to play the winner of Friday night's Northside-Warner Robins/Houston County contest, which will decide the Region 2 championship.Ingram said he plans to be attendance at the game to do a bit of advance scouting prior to exchanging film with his opponent.With Thursday's win, the Grangers (5-5, 4-2) clinched the 3-seed and will travel to play the No. 2 seed from Region 2.
LaGrange likely wouldn't have been able to claim a victory without the efforts of Denson. Put aside the fact he ran for 247 yards and four scores; perhaps his most impressive stat was two. As in, of his 31 carries, only two were for loss.
While Denson had the majority of the yardage, he wasn't the only Granger who found success running against the Patriots' defense.
Kimani Barnes had 86 yards on 15 carries while receiver Laperrion Perry gashed Northside for 28 yards on three rushes.
In sum, the Grangers ran for 359 yards. And while they only threw the ball one time in the second half, they had 112 passing yards, giving them 471 yards of total offense versus Northside.
The Patriots, on the other hand, finished with only 262 yards (212 rushing, 50 passing) of total offense.
It was a struggle from the outset for Northside, as LaGrange jumped out to a lead after scoring on the game's opening possession. Starting at its own 20-yard line, the Grangers drove 80 yards in six plays. The lion's share of the yardage came on a 50-yard pass from Ahmad Ogletree to Mike Hardy. It wasn't a pretty pass — wobbling its way down the field from the moment it left the sophomore's arm — but the junior receiver was able to make a leaping grab over a Northside defender to give the Grangers a first down at the Patriots' 14-yard line.
From there, the Grangers leaned on Denson, who picked up nine yards and five yards, respectively, on the next two plays, with the latter marking the game's first score at the 8:59 mark.
The Patriots were able to keep the deficit at 6-0, though, as they blocked Emmanuel Mann's extra-point attempt.
The visitors weren't able to get anything going on their first possession, punting it back to LaGrange. Even though they were pinned back at their own 6-yard line, it took the Grangers only four plays to score again. Denson once again found running room, gaining 44 yards to move it out to Northside's 49-yard line. Barnes lost a yard on the next play, but the Grangers more than made up for it on second-and-11 at midfield.
Mirroring a play from the first drive down to a T, Ogletree looked downfield to his left and heaved another wobbly pass in Hardy's direction. Once more, the junior wideout plucked it out of the air, outjumping Northside's David Apiag at the 10-yard line. Ogletree then broke Apiag's tackle and jogged into the end zone for a 50-yard score.
The Grangers made up for the missed PAT on their first drive, as Barnes ran up the middle for a successful two-point conversion, extending the hosts' advantage to 14-0 with 4:44 to go in the first period.
It continued to look bleak for the Patriots on the ensuing possession, as they were pinned inside their own 5-yard line after a mishap on the kickoff return. To make matters worse, they quickly went three-and-out. To top it off, the punt travel barely 30 yards, giving the Grangers the ball only 30 yards away from the goal line.
But then the tide started to shift.
Even with the excellent field position, LaGrange came up empty, with Northside's defense coming up with a turnover on downs after stopping the Grangers on fourth-and-goal at the 8-yard line.
Before halftime came, Northside was able to score on a pair of runs (one each from Kalan Watts and Levi Dunn) to top Denson's only touchdown of the quarter, cutting LaGrange's lead to 21-14 after the first 24 minutes.
The third quarter was a defensive struggle, as the only points came on the foot of Northside kicker Nathan Robertson, who nailed a 39-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 21-17.
In the fourth quarter, however, Denson and the Grangers' ground game was too tough, outscoring the visitors 14-7 to take an 11-point victory.
Despite the defeat, Ingram was pleased with the resolve his team showed.
"I like the way my guys fight every game, regardless of the outcome," he said. " ... We have a lot of young guys and we take every week as a positive. We'll learn from this and move on to the next one."
Thursday at Callaway Stadium
Northside- 0 14 3 7 24
LaGrange- 14 7 0 14 35
LHS- Mon Denson 5 run (Emmanuel Mann kick blocked), 8:59
LHS- Mike Hardy 50 pass from Ahmad Ogletree (Kimani Barnes run), 4:44
NHS- Kalan Watts 3 run (Nathan Robertson kick), 7:13
LHS- Denson 1 run (Gus Golden kick), 3:17
NHS- Levi Dunn 30 run (Robertson kick), 51.1
NHS- Robertson 39 FG, 6:22
LHS- Denson 67 run (Golden kick failed), 8:27
NHS- Watts 1 run (Robertson kick), 7:36
LHS- Denson 1 run (Triston Dozier run), 6:03