Prep Football: Newnan's situation after loss similar to 2011
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Newnan head coach Mike McDonald is no fortune teller. But he’s been around high school football long enough to predict when hard times might befall one of his teams.
Well before Friday’s lopsided 38-7 loss at home to Sandy Creek — even prior the first snap of Newnan’s preseason scrimmage — McDonald may have anticipated a possible speed bump in Game 3.
“It is what it is,” said McDonald prior the season. “This may have been the year to play a little bit easier of a stretch early on. But it’s hard to find games.”
The result were three consecutive Fridays to open the 2012 season against playoff caliber opponents capped off with the toughest yet in Sandy Creek.
The hope is that Newnan can rebound in this Friday’s game at Callaway Stadium against Troup, the Cougars’ fourth straight non-region game against a playoff team from last year.
Now at 2-1, headed into the last of a brutal four-week stretch prior the first of its two bye weeks this season, the Cougars are staring down the same kind of adversity they faced in 2011.
A year ago at this point, Newnan was dealing with its first loss of the year against Peachtree Ridge, who might have been the toughest opponent on the schedule.
“It’s going to be tough those first three,” McDonald predicted. “To be honest, as good as Stephenson and some of those other folks were last year, I don’t think we faced anyone better than Peachtree Ridge. They had outstanding athleticism and speed.”
The description may have been spot on for Sandy Creek, which used six receivers and four running backs to put together 38 points before going to its backups through much of the final 12 minutes of play.
“You’ve got be able to handle things if they don’t go right,” McDonald said prior to the season. “I’m a believer that it can really help you if you play that type of competition.”
Heads hung lower Friday night than at any point during the season so far. After pulling out a pair of second-half rallies, Newnan went to halftime at Drake Stadium down 31-7 to Sandy Creek with little having gone its way. The game ended with a running clock, which despite being common for Cougar opponents during Newnan’s back-to-back state semifinal appearances in 2008 and 2009, had rarely ever been used to keep one of its own losses from getting too far out of hand.
The Patriots, who now host East Coweta on Thursday in a televised game, seemed more dominant than Peachtree Ridge a year ago in defeating Newnan, which tallied its only touchdown on a Sandy Creek fumble for a short-lived 7-3 lead.
The rest of Friday’s game, which featured three scoring runs from fullback Antonio Williams and a pair of touchdown throws by junior Cole Garvin, belonged to the Patriots, who have outscored their first two opponents by a near 47-7 margin.
Knowing the schedule wouldn’t be easy, McDonald expected his players to be challenged both physically and mentally. How they handle it, however, is a question to be answered beginning Friday at Troup.
“You want to play tough people early, cause it let’s you know where you’re at and lets you get ready,” McDonald said. “It’s also a challenge early, cause if it doesn’t go quite like you want it to, have we got enough character to hold that thing together,”
Maybe not expectedly, McDonald got a bit of an answer when senior Tray Matthews asked to address the huddle immediately following this postgame talk. There weren’t a whole lot of positives to reflect on. The Cougars were outgained by a 3-to-1 margin in the first half alone, finishing with four turnovers, three of which were eventually converted into Sandy Creek touchdowns.
Before they trotted toward the Newnan locker room, Matthews called the group back to share his own insights. His words seemed to echo his coach’s thoughts.
“We know we can’t be complacent,” said Matthews. “We’ve got to get better and I think we can. We knew they were a good team. Coach McDonald is always telling us that’s why we play competitive teams like them, so we can be ready. We showed we could do it last year against Valdosta.”
Last season wasn’t without its share of tribulations either. But after heading into the Class AAAAA state playoffs reeling from three-straight losses to state playoff teams in M.L. King, Stephenson and East Coweta, Newnan rolled past Region 1-AAAAA champion Valdosta, 17-7.
The experience from Friday loss to Sandy Creek hopes to provide much the same path as last year’s disappointment against Peachtree Ridge.
“It helps, but you have to be mature enough as a team,” McDonald said. “We’re inexperienced, and when you play good people you may take your lumps there early. But can you be mature enough to overcome some of that?”
As expected with a sophomore at quarterback who has still played well above his years so far and an offensive line that was replacing most of last year’s starters, Newnan’s offense — especially its running game — has been a work in progress so far. Despite solid efforts, returning backs Quinton Dix and J.K. Britt have yet to sniff a 100-yard game.
Meanwhile, a Cougar defense that has the majority of last year’s contributors back, found itself on the field longer than it liked. At the height of the frustrations may have been a Newnan fumble that came on the team’s first snap after recovering a fumble by Sandy Creek on the Cougars’ 3-yard-line.
“We’re going to have to play great on defense until the offense finds its way. Maybe a little bit more this year,” McDonald said prior to the season. “There’s going to be growing pains. if we can hang in there and play well on defense, I really think by the time we hit region play we can be a really good team.”