Prep Football: Rested Newnan hosts Hardaway in HC tilt
By DOUG GORMAN
Newnan’s football team has plenty of reasons to be distracted this week.
But Cougars head coach Mike McDonald won’t allow his team to get caught up in the hype that comes with Homecoming.
“There are always things that go with homecoming, but I tell the guys that we have a game to play and that is our main purpose,” McDonald said. “Hopefully ... we stay focused on the task at hand.”
With a 3-1 record, Newnan reaches the halfway point of the season Friday night with a 7:30 kickoff at Drake Stadium.
Newnan’s only setback this year came against Sandy Creek, which is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Class AAAA poll.
After the first four contests, McDonald is pleased with the direction his team is headed.
“We are 3-1 and if you had told me that back in August, I would have definitely taken that,” McDonald said.
Newnan has played its best football in the second half of games this year, winning all three contests with comebacks in the final two quarters.
In its 21-14 victory against Troup County in LaGrange, all three of Newnan’s touchdowns came in the span of less than five minutes of the fourth quarter.
“We have hung in and won some games, but we have got to start a little bit quicker,” McDonald said. “It’s good anytime you win and anytime you are 3-1, but there are things we still have to work on.”
Newnan spent last week’s open date just trying to stay focused on improving.
“We spent time just concentrating on us and just trying to get better,” McDonald said. "I think we got better and hopefully we will go out there and get the win Friday night.”
Through four games, senior Tray Matthews has turned into the Cougars top wide receiver, hauling in 15 catches with three touchdowns. He has also shown his versatility for the Cougars out of his team’s wildcat formation also scoring two touchdowns for Newnan.
The Cougars’ are also getting plenty of help from wide receiver Traon Moss, who has 14 catches and three touchdowns. Moss came up big for Newnan in its last outing, catching a touchdown pass as part of the Cougars’ second-half rally.
With Matthews and Moss in the lineup, it has helped sophomore quarterback Bailey Bryant grow up fast.
“When you have Tray and Traon in the lineup, and guys like Darrell (Morrow) and J.K. (Britt), it certainly helps take some of the load off and makes his job easier,” McDonald said.
Bryant has completed 44 of 61 passes for a 72.1 percentage. His 183.10 quarterback rating includes six touchdowns and just one interception.
“He’s a hard worker and he has been a pleasant surprise for us,” McDonald said. “He has done a really good job. We really worked hard on our pass protection during the off week. We still want to go out and throw it even more than we did in the first few games.”
Senior Quinton Dix is the leading rusher for the Cougars with 261 yards on 53 carries and three touchdowns.
Britt is also another option for the Cougars out of the backfield. The sophomore has gained 87 yards on 27 carries.
Defensively, the Cougars are allowing 25.5 points per game, but are helping to keep Newnan in games by forcing turnovers and getting to opposing quarterbacks.
Led by Rodney Tennies interception, Cameron Walkers’ three sacks and Tonaris Portress two fumble recoveries, Newnan has been able to change momentum and field possession.
Portress is also the team’s leading tackler with 43, including 26 solos. Matthews also has a nose for the football, with 30 tackles.
Hardaway makes the trek from Columbus with hopes to shake off its two-game losing streak.
The Golden Hawks began the season on a two-game winning streak, beating Class A Jordan 49-23 and Columbus 48-14, but have been outscored 84-6 in its last two games. Hardaway fell 27-6 to Shaw, and then 57-0 to fourth-ranked Lowndes last week.
Friday night’s homecoming clash will be the first meeting ever between the two teams.
The Golden Hawks struggled last year with a collection of underclassmen and finished with just one win, beating Lee County 45-43.
Hardaway comes into the game with several players returning on both sides of the ball. The defense is anchored by lineman Jarrod Coleman and Brandon Foxx. The offense is lead by running back Shakur Warner.
Friday night’s contest will be the last non-region game for the Cougars. A quirk in the schedule will give the Cougars a second open date next week before heading to Tri-Cities for the league opener.