But rallying from a 28-0 halftime deficit with almost perfect execution to get close at the end was, Combs said, an “eye-opener.”
“We played a great second half,” Combs said. “We were physical, we executed on all cylinders, we didn’t turn the ball over offensively, we recovered two fumbles defensively. I think we woke up a little bit and said, ‘Hey, we can play this game and hey we can play with the best.’ [LaGrange] is a good team.”
The Cougars (0-6, 0-3 Region 5-AAAA) will get a look at another good team Friday night when Class AAAA No. 1 Sandy Creek visits Alexander.
The Cougars hope to build on last week’s progress. They proved they could play with a top-tier program like LaGrange. Showing the same mettle against the top team in the state would be another huge step in the direction Combs is trying to take the Cougars.
A key piece of that puzzle is sophomore tailback back Mikell Lands, arguably the Cougars top offensive threat. Opposing teams had been keying in on Lands, limiting his production earlier in the season. But with his offensive line stepping it up a notch against the Grangers, Lands racked up 142 yards and two TDs running the ball, another 72 receiving yards and 85 yards on kickoff and punt returns.
“I think for him, that game was his introduction to our region and an introduction to the state and the future to come,” Combs said. “I don’t think he played as a sophomore. He was out there being physical, he took what they gave him and he didn’t try to do too much. When they gave him only three yards, he took the three yards. But when they gave him open grass, he capitalized on it.”
Alexander QB Brian Dansereau was effective orchestrating long drives in the second half against the Grangers, another thing that will be key to keeping the explosive Sandy Creek offense off the field as much as possible.
The Cougars defense also came up big in the second half last week, with an interception return for a TD by junior linebacker Taylor Schartle.
Sandy Creek (6-0, 3-0 Region 5-AAAA) has outscored its opponents by an average of 45.8-11.6. The Patriots run a true balanced offense, passing for 217.8 yards a game and rushing for 186.5.
Junior QB Cole Garvin has completed 64.3 percent of his throws for 1,242 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. Senior receivers Kyle Wilson (353 yards, 3 TDs) and Zerric Willis (165 yards, 3 TDs) have been Garvin’s favorite targets.
When Garvin’s not throwing, he’ll be handing off, primarily to sophomore running backs Eric Swinney (559 yards, 8 TDs) and Delvin Weems (257 yards, 4 TDs).
“They’re going to take what you give them,” Combs said. ...”We’ve got to go with the bend, don’t break philosophy on defense. Make them go on long drives and not give up the big plays.”
In practice this week, the Cougars have stayed focused on playing their game and playing it well rather than worrying too much about the high-flying Patriots.
“There’s a lot of coaches in my position right now, playing the No. 1 team, that would say it’s a measuring stick,” Combs said. “I don’t know if I would use a measuring stick. [Last week] opened our eyes a lot more to the fact that we are a good football team that is probably not performing at the best of our abilities right now and we hope to show that on Friday night.”