Despite changing times, rivalry still centered around the game
by Chris Goltermann and Doug Gorman
As the years have passed, the world surrounding the East Coweta-Newnan football game has certainly changed a bit. Where once fans of rival high school programs could exchange a war of words, one can now plaster them online - if you can manage it among 140 characters on Twitter.
The outdated 'We've got spirit, how about you?' chant so often used 22 years ago when teams met in 1992 was equally replaced this week with dueling rap songs produced by students from both schools and quickly passed along through YouTube.
And of course, adding a bit of folklore to the game by the introduction of the BrantleyKnott Water Cooler trophy to be claimed by tonight's winner for the first time should only add further excitement when the Indians and Cougars descend on Drake Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
But the more things change - the more they stay the same.
At its heart, tonight is about the best that high school football can offer under the lights on a Friday night inside the boundaries of county lines.
'It's loud, it's intense and that's the way it ought to be,' said East Coweta's Clint Wade, who is among the few that have been on the sidelines for every game in the series either as an assistant or in his current position as head coach. 'It's not for the faint of the heart.'
It's also one without many secrets between teams heading into tonight.
'It's added interest. It's a county rivalry [and] it's our biggest rivalry,' Newnan head coach Mike McDonald said. 'Then again, it's the next game. You have to go out there and play. You can't make it any bigger than what it is.' Yet like it has in most cases, especially while trading wins the past two years, region playoff implications hang in the balance.
On top of hoisting the Brantley-Knott Cooler - named for the school's respective head trainers, each of whom have been on opposing sidelines for all 21 previous meetings, tonight's winner will finish second in the Region 3-AAAAAA standings and get a chance to host a first-round state playoff game. For Newnan (6-3, 3-1 in Region 3-AAAAAA), it's also an opportunity to even the series while one game behind East Coweta (4-5, 2-2), which holds an 11-10 edge between the two schools despite last year's 21-7 victory by the Cougars at ECHS's Garland Shoemake Stadium. At the same time, Newnan could potentially help knock East Coweta out of postseason contention (also needing a Westlake win tonight over Hughes and a Douglas County win over Tri-Cities) or at least force a three-way tie for the No. 3 and No. 4 playoff seeds beween the Indians, Lions and Tigers.
The home team has lost each of the last two meetings following what became a one-sided rivalry at points. Newnan shut out 'little old East Coweta' in the first game between schools, words that were printed and used as a rallying cry for Indians players during 10 consecutive wins from 1992-2003, only to see the Cougars reel off eight straight victories of their own from 2003-2010.
While it's hard to control the emotions off the field from the community, both coaching staffs have focused on keeping players in check while preparing them for four quarters of play tonight.
'I've been a part of all of them and there's a lot of those 'ifs' that go around. Well that's part of the game. If there's too many 'ifs', we lose,' Wade said.
'What we need to do is focus on how we're going to perform and be successful at what we do.'
Wade's known too well about those 'ifs' both in last year's game and last week's disappointing loss to Douglas County that set up a near mustwin situation against Newnan.
He knows it'll take a much more dedicated effort in order for East Coweta to right itself in both instances after being held to just one touchdown on 70 yards rushing and 122 passing last week in the loss to Douglas County.
'They're very good at what they do on both sides of the ball,' Wade said. 'They pressure the ball on defense with those linebackers and up front and they've got athletes on offense that can get behind you if we make a mistake.'
McDonald, who enters his fifth Newnan-East Coweta game as head coach prior to several years as the Cougars defensive coordinator understands a key to victory will be trying to find away to contain Indians' quarterback Bryce Gemmel.
'Their quarterback is a handful, he can throw it and he can running it. That's an element you have to prepare for because he can beat you both ways.
They have (wide receiver) Markel Boston who is a really good. They have a veteran offensive line, good running backs who are all really good players,' McDonald said.
Boston, who caught an eventual game-winning touchdown to help defeat Newnan 28-25 in 2011 when the teams last played at Newnan's Drake Stadium, was in street clothes most of this week as a precaution after suffering a leg injury on Monday, but is expected to play.
'It's all about respect, execution and how we play the game,' Wade said. 'We can prepare them and they can with their guys. But it comes down to who executes when it matters most.'
Newnan comes into the game off back-to-back wins over Douglas County and Westlake, needing overtime last week to hang on for a 9-6 win.
'We have done a good job finding a way to win,' McDonald said. 'The defense has picked us up some. Last week it was the kicking game. We have found a way to get it done, and we are going to have to find away on Friday.'