Prep Football: Newnan battled to the finishBy DOUG GORMAN
Several Newnan football players couldn’t fight back the tears Friday night as they exited Drake Stadium just minutes after ending their season in a hard-fought 26-23 loss to Colquitt County in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAAAA playoffs.
The Cougars had left everything on the field, and came within perhaps one big offensive play and defensive stop of winning the game after leading 23-18 with a little more than three minutes to go.
“You played your guts out tonight,” head coach Mike McDonald told his team after the game. “It hurts when you lose one like this.”
The Cougars hurt their own chances when they fumbled the ball away deep in Colquitt territory as they were marching toward what would have been a been a touchdown to give them a two-score lead.
That’s when the Packers rose to the occasion as Cole Segraves connected on a long, 40-yard, fourth-down pass over the middle. Two plays later, Colquitt was back in the end zone for the winning touchdown.
It was one of those nights that Hollywood couldn’t have scripted any better.
The Cougars started the week unsure if starting quarterback Bailey Bryant would play. An injured shoulder kept him out of practice and on the sidelines a good part of the week. Like a prize fighter lifting himself off the canvas, Bryant entered Friday night’s game on Newnan’s third offensive series and finished with more than 100 yards passing and two touchdowns.
It was a sign that the sophomore quarterback grew up over the course of the season.
Bryant became the Cougars signal-caller last spring and never relinquished his duties. He finished 2012 with more than 1,500 yards passing and 15 touchdowns. Despite Friday playing at less than 100 percent, Bryant hung in there, took some painful blows from the Packers’ defense but still managed to find open receivers.
As the season progressed, Bryant got better at hitting the open receiver. In Friday night’s playoff game, Bryant threw the ball to five different wide receivers.
Traon Moss hauled in four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown to close out a career year for the senior.
Drew Morris also changed field position for the Cougars with some catches. The Cougars’ senior caught passes of 14 and 16 yards to move the yardsticks.
The Cougars also go a tremendous lift from Rodney Tennie who intercepted a pass for a touchdown. It was Tennie’s fifth interception in three games, and his second for a touchdown. His defensive play helped the Cougars jump start things on both sides of the ball.
Even though the Cougars ended their season, the defense finished strong.
Heading into Friday night’s contest, Newnan had allowed just 20 points in four games and earned shutouts over Westlake and Alcovy. Seven times this year the team allowed 14 points or less.
The Cougars also showed their ability to rally back this year. Newnan started the season with a 3-1 record, beating Marietta, LaGrange and Troup County after trailing at some point in victories. The Cougars also spotted East Coweta a touchdown before winning 21-7 in the final game of the regular season.
Newnan is already thinking about next year.
“Guys, it’s 12 months a year,” McDonald said to his returning players. “We are going to enjoy Christmas, then we are going to get back at it.”
In addition to Bailey, the Cougars will count heavily on sophomore running back J.K. Britt out of the backfield after losing senior Quinton Dix to graduation. Britt showed signs this year of picking up big yardage out of the backfield. Friday night against Colquitt County, Britt had back-to-back carries of 15 and 10 yards and added a four-yard touchdown catch.
Defensively, Tonaris Portress will be counted on to lead Newnan’s returning starters at inside linebacker after posting over 100 tackles.
Despite losing a senior kicker and punter for the second consecutive offseason, Cougar special team units look to be led next year by place kicker Connor Cox, who booted his first career field goal and a handful of extra points this year, including two during a playoff victory over Alcovy.