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Carver vs. LaGrange Preview

August 29, 2011
Great American Football Classic

By Scott Smith

One topic that almost always seems to come up when people are talking about Georgia high school football is rivalries.

The state is riddled with them, some of which date back decades, and one such rivalry that inevitably comes up in those conversations is the LaGrange-Carver series.

This year's game is the 14th meeting between the two schools in a series that began in 1992. For years, the game had huge implications for region titles and playoff seedings as both teams competed in the same region.

Even though Carver went down to Class AA to start the 2010 season while LaGrange stayed in Class AAA, the intensity and urgency still remains.

"Playing Carver is big because they are a rival and playing them in the dome makes it even more exciting," LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch said. "The stakes aren't as high since we aren't in the same region anymore but a lot of pride is involved. We have a great community fan base."

LaGrange holds bragging rights for the most wins in the series with eight victories against five losses. However, Carver has had the upper hand with wins in the last four games.

If LaGrange is to stop that losing skid to the Tigers, it will have to do so against one of the teams favored to compete for the Class AA state title.

Carver is coming off a 13-1 season and boasted a preseason ranking of No. 3 in Class AA. Last year's team featured the running of Isaiah Crowell, but his graduation and enrollement at UGA left a huge hole for head coach Dell McGee to fill.

However, McGee is confident that the tandem of Marquez Holloway and Cequanti Ford will be able to fill the void left by Crowell's departure.

The offense for Carver also gets a boost on the outside from Artimas Samuel, a 6-2, 205-pound senior who can play wide receiver and tight end. Samuel holds and impressive list of offers from several SEC, ACC and Big 10 programs, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Clemson, Michigan State and South Carolina.

Another D-1 prospect on Carver's roster is senior defensive lineman Derious Bennett, who is a compact 6-1, 270 pounds. Offers for Bennett include Wake Forest, Houston and Marshall.

While many of the faces for Carver are new, the approach will basically be the same. That cannot be said for LaGrange, though.

Coach Branch is in his first year at the helm for the Grangers, taking over after Steve Pardue led the program for 17 years. LaGrange went 161-45 under Pardue, winning state titles in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

All those games were won by running the Wing-T on offense, but Branch has brought in the spread, giving the Grangers a completely new look its faithful hasn't seen.

"We've made a lot of scheme changes but we hope that the tradition doesn't change," Branch said. "We're getting better every week and we hope that by week four, we'll be even better."

Branch has two big-play threats at receiver in junior Dee Smith and senior Javon Cameron. Demoten Boyd is another that Branch calls a big-play guy, spending time at cornerback on defense, while utilizing his 4.3 speed in special teams on kick returns.

Milton Lamar anchors the defensive line at tackle, while senior Deshawdrick Varner is the defensive leader at linebacker.

"It's a big honor to play in the dome, period, but to be a part of this inaugural classic makes it an even bigger honor," Branch said.

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