East Coweta welcomes chance to feast on football Thanksgiving week
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
It’s been awhile since the football practice field at East Coweta was this busy during the week of Thanksgiving.
For the first time since 2007, Indians players will be told not to overindulge on turkey and all the fixings knowing they’ve got to get up early on Friday for yet another game day.
“I love it. This is what it’s all about,” he said during a midday practice on an otherwise deserted campus during Thanksgiving break. “We’ve given ourselves another opportunity. I thought we played well last week. We got over it and fixed a lot of things that went wrong the week before. We’ve got some swagger back again. Every team needs a little of that.”
On the heels of last week’s 25-20 first-round Class AAAAAA playoff victory at Newton, East Coweta now prepares for a much longer — and tougher — road to a potential berth in the quarterfinals when the Indians travel to play powerhouse Camden County (10-1), which showed no signs of slowing down after winning a Region 1-AAAAAA championship.
The 5-6 Indians enter as heavy underdogs against a Camden program that is trying to get back to the state semifinals for the first time since winning a state title in 2009. The last time East Coweta got this far, the Indians also traveled to Kingsland for a second-round game before falling to Camden 21-3.
Outside of a 13-12 loss to close the regular season against Colquitt County — which is headed to Newnan for its own second-round matchup this week — Camden hasn’t showed much of a weakness, scoring 24 points or more in its 10 victories while not allowing any opponent to score more than twice all season.
“They’re extremely disciplined,” Wade said. “They just don’t make many mistakes.”
In their 13th year under head coach Jeff Herron, the Wildcats have averaged close to 300 yards of offense per game while led by Georgia commitment Brice Ramsey at quarterback. In a run-dominant wing-T offense that goes beyond the typical buck sweep, Ramsey had thrown for 1,251 yards and 18 touchdowns, while equally throwing just one interception through 11 games.
“Doubles, trips, you name it, they run it,” Wade said. “It’s going to be a challenge. But we’re going out there with the intention to win, as always.”
Both head coaches share a unique bond. Wade and Herron followed each other as graduate assistants at Tennessee Tech in the early 1980s under Wade’s late father, Don, before both earned head positions following stints as assistants at Georgia high schools.
The younger Wade went on to work under Dan Pitts, Max Bass and Danny Cronic, while Herron’s first jobs came when he was recommended to Jimmy Dorsey, who played at Tech under Don Wade in the 1970s, at Paulding County and McEachern.
With Dorsey en route to 200-plus wins in Cobb County, Herron moved on to head coaching stops at four schools prior to Camden, eventually eclipsing his former boss’ win total. It stands at 241 heading into Friday’s game.
“It’s funny how things worked out,” said Wade. “The first time Jeff and I talked after dad passed, he came up to me and very graciously said how sorry he was to hear the news. I remember him saying, ‘If it wasn’t for your dad, I might not have come to Georgia.’”
The Wildcats are certainly pleased that Herron, a Virginia native, chose to leave Oconee County for the coast directly after leading his previous school to an undefeated season. In 13 seasons, the program has gone 145-17, hasn’t lost more than three times in a year and no more than two since Herron’s initial season, while earning three state Class AAAAA championships.
During that time, Wade’s been part of an East Coweta program that hasn’t missed the state playoffs since 1996 and hasn’t experienced a losing record since he was hired by Cronic as a defensive assistant in the early 1990s.
Giving up large chunks of yards for scores throughout the season, it’ll be up to East Coweta’s defense to build on last week’s playoff win, which saw the Indians hold the Rams to just two short-yardage touchdowns up until the final three minutes, one of which came directly off a turnover at their own 2-yard line.
All three Newton scores came on short gains and a key interception by senior Dee Godfrey kept the Rams at a distance after grabbing a 15-12 lead for good in the third quarter. Two scores, a razzle-dazzle two-point play and Spencer Smith’s 27-yard field goal highlighted a solid second half from East Coweta’s offense led by 123 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Godfrey to go with 68 yards rushing from quarterback Bryce Gemmel.
Gemmel also added 146 yards on 11 of 17 passing while catching a two-point pass on a reverse that began with Gemmel, Godfrey and senior Nigel Gay exchanging handoffs.
“It was perfect,” Wade said, smiling. “It couldn’t have been executed any better.”
The Indians head coach hinted, however, that it’ll take a near perfect effort on nearly every snap to have a chance at knocking off Camden. The last time the Wildcats lost in the second round at home, Hillgrove took advantage of penalties and a recovered onside kick to hold on for a 28-26 victory in 2010.
Last week, however, Camden throttled Hillgrove 52-17 while breaking a scoreless tie with 21 points in the second quarter. Eleven ballcarriers, led by senior J.J. Green and sophomore Antonio Wimbush, racked up 398 yards rushing as the Wildcats rotated fresh legs at all three backfield positions. Green has 12 touchdowns and Wimbush 10 for the season.
East Coweta’s defensive coaches have tried to keep things simple in preparation while trying to matchup with the scout-team offense this week, taking the “K.I.S.S. approach” — with the anagram’s first words standing for, “Keep It Simple.”
“Lucy” for left, and “Richie” for right, have been the words most repeated this week in defensive drills while working on recognizing formations in Camden’s wing-T.
“We’re trying to get them in position to make plays,” Wade said. “A lot of it is recognition, trying to get them lined up.”
East Coweta should have its opportunities, but the key will be to pounce on them. Camden has 24 fumbles in 11 games including three last week, but has only lost 13 of them.
The Wildcats, though, have been even tougher to score points on. In 11 games, the team has posted 29 sacks, nine of which came in a 42-8 blowout of Brunswick. At least seven defenders have at least one interception.
Special teams have been sound for both lineups. While East Coweta has benefitted from Smith’s kickoffs, 40 of 44 had gone for touchbacks prior to last week, Ramsey has also become a standout punter and place kicker, averaging 38.5 yards per punt and booting 43 of 50 kickoffs into the end zone. Camden also averages 28.6 yards on kickoff returns and 12.3 yards on punt returns.
East Coweta plans to leave Friday morning around 10:30 a.m., with an initial stop in early afternoon. The team plans to eat their pregame meal close to the stadium around 4:30 p.m., before heading to the stadium.