2012 NTH All-County Football: Newnan's Matthews was top 'dawg'
By DOUG GORMAN
The 2012 high school football season may not have been perfect for East Coweta, Newnan and Northgate, each of which went through its share of bumps in the road.
Yet it was again one that led to respective state playoff berths.
Newnan finished second in Region 3-AAAAAA with a 9-3 record. The Cougars earned a reputation for rallying from behind early in the season, but found their stride by early November to win four of their last five games, including a 21-7 victory over East Coweta. Newnan rolled past Alcovy 38-0 in the first round of the playoffs before nearly getting past Colquitt, which made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to eventual state-champion Norcross.
It was as much a roller-coaster year for East Coweta, which was dealt its first losing record since 1987. But it ended in the state playoffs after being tested by a non-region schedule that included games against eventual state finalists Lovejoy and Sandy Creek. The Indians’ first five opponents finished the year with a combined record of 42-19.
After losing 32 seniors, East Coweta’s lineup grew up quickly in time to earn a first-round playoff win over Newton before falling at Camden County in the Sweet 16.
Coming off an 11-1 season, Northgate battled injuries most of the year but rattled off three straight wins to close out the regular season and make the playoffs after making the jump to Class AAAAA. The Vikings lost a first-round game to Harris County and finished with a 5-6 record.
The Vikings’ biggest win during 2012 came on a Saturday night when it held off Mundy’s Mill on the road 15-3 to finish out the regular season and secure a spot in the playoffs for the second year in a row.
All three schools landed at least 10 players on the 2012 Newnan Times-Herald All-County team, with Newnan leading the way with 13 including both Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year honorees.
In all three phases, senior Tray Matthews was a dominating — and equally soothing — presence on the field for the Cougars during his senior year while earning The Newnan Times-Herald MVP honors. Matthews, who committed to the University of Georgia before his junior year, is expected to head to Athens in January where he will enroll in college in time for the spring semester.
Playing offense for the first time in his career, Matthews hauled in 37 pass receptions for 629 yards and seven touchdowns. He was as much a calming presence for Newnan first-year quarterback Bailey Bryant as the sophomore also came into his own.
“That really helped Bailey a lot having Tray,” Newnan offensive coordinator Kenny Morris said at this year’s All-Region selection meeting.
Returning to his starting safety position for the third consecutive year, the future Bulldog was just as reliable from his cornerback position, with 80 tackles, two sacks and an interception. And on special teams, Matthews blocked six kicks while getting his hands on both punts and field goals.
East Coweta’s Dee Godfrey led his team in rushing for the third consecutive year. But the senior — who Indians head coach Clint Wade called the team’s “Energizer bunny” — saved his best for last.
Godfrey closed out his varsity career with 1,180 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns in 2012 — all single-season highs. Those numbers helped Godfrey, who has committed to play football in Georgia Southern’s triple option, earn The Newnan Times-Herald Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Although Godfrey plans to stick with his verbal commitment to join Georgia Southern, is also expected to visit Jacksonville State.
Newnan junior linebacker Tonaris Portress earned The Newnan Times-Herald Defensive Player of the Year honors for the playoff-bound Cougars. The Newnan junior was an opponent’s worst nightmare, leading the Cougars defense with 124 tackles, 79 solos, three sacks and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
A move inside this year to the middle of the defense provided a much-needed boost for a unit that allowed an average of 13 points a game over the final nine weeks of the season.
Newnan also had its share of All-County honorees, including Bryant at quarterback. In his varsity debut, Bryant completed more than 66 percent of his passes (121 of 182 passes) for 1,786 yards and 16 touchdowns. He threw six interceptions, at least two on tipped passes by receivers.
Bryant also made a gutsy effort in Newnan’s second-round playoff game at home against Colquitt County, coming off the bench with an injury to help give his team a chance to win in the closing minutes.
“I was so proud of him,” said longtime Newnan trainer James “Radar” Brantley. “He really took some shots. He grew up a lot in that game.”
Newnan also put two running backs on the first team as senior Quinton Dix and sophomore J.K. Britt garnered spots.
Dix rushed for 891 yards and scored eight touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Britt finished with 551 yards rushing and three touchdowns while averaging 6.6 yards per carry. The sophomore was also a threat as a receiver while hauling in 29 catches for 288 yards and three more touchdowns.
Northgate’s Benton Washington garnered first-team honors despite playing just over half the season due to injury. He suffered a broken arm before the start of the season, but came back with 615 yards on 77 attempts and seven touchdowns.
Northgate fullback T.J. Womack — who moved from his guard position on the Vikings offensive line during the early string of injuries — became a welcomed surprise while filling in for Washington. He also earned a spot on the All-County team running the ball out of the Vikings’ Wing-T offense. Womack finished the year with 868 yards and four touchdowns, including a team-high 181 rushing attempts.
Among five All-County receivers, Newnan senior Traon Moss led the county with 691 yards receiving and tied Matthews with highs of 37 receptions and seven touchdowns.
East Coweta junior Markel Boston was the Indians’ leading receiver with 29 catches for 440 yards and three touchdowns, earning his second straight All-County honor. He’s joined by senior teammate Wyatt Potter, who had 14 receptions for 243 yards and two scores for an impressive 17.4 yards per catch average.
Another top receiver of East Coweta junior quarterback Bryce Gemmel during his 1,543-yard passing effort was senior All-County Nigel Gay, who had 24 catches for 415 yards and was a dual-threat as a kick returner.
Gay “was a game-changer for us,” said Wade of his efforts on special teams.
Northgate senior Brandon Facyson is about to enroll early at the Virginia Tech and even though Hokies head coach Frank Beamer has the Viking slated to play cornerback, he had a banner year at receiver with a team-leading 31 catches and four touchdowns. Facyson added 27 tackles on defense this year.
All three schools had a pair of offensive linemen earning All-County honors.
Northgate seniors Dustin Foley and Chase Smith opened holes for a Viking offense that averaged 213 rushing yards per game. At tackle, Foley (6-0, 210) was selected to the Region 4B-AAAAA First Team while Smith (6-0, 220) earned a spot on the Second Team while returning as the team’s starting center.
Also earning a repeat All-County selection was Newnan senior tackle Jamal Carlisle (6-3, 290), who again was a First Team All-Region honoree while protecting southpaw quarterback Bryant from the right side of the line.
Newnan junior Anfenney Turner (6-2, 260), a second team All Region 3-AAAAAA selection, joins Carlisle on the All-County team.
East Coweta senior offensive tackle Zack Harness helped spring Godfrey and the rest of the Indians’ backfield while joining Carlisle on the All-Region First Team Offense.
The two were teammates for the Central All-Stars at Saturday’s D.L. Coalition Bowl Game at the Georgia Dome.
Also earning a nod among East Coweta’s offensive line was center Luke Clayton, who was a Second Team All-Region selection.
East Coweta and Northgate each landed a pair of defensive linemen on this year’s All-County team led by a pair of Vikings headed to Division I programs next year.
Northgate senior end Sean Spencer (6-2, 270) managed to elude a string of freak injuries that ended his first three varsity seasons early en route to earning Region 4B-AAAAA Defensive Player of the Year honors. Spencer, who has made a verbal commitment to Navy, finished with 52 tackles and five fumble recoveries and was the only Viking defensive starter who didn’t have a missed tackle on the year.
Joined up front by senior tackle DeAndre Johnson (6-3, 320), the pair were dominating at the line of scrimmage. Johnson, who will join Newnan’s Matthews at the University of Georgia, finished with 33 tackles and a fumble recovery while constantly being double-teamed by offensive linemen on snaps.
East Coweta’s defensive line included standout among both returners and newcomers. Senior end Clifton Strong (5-11, 210) had 80 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble and an interception.
The Indians equally got a big boost on the other end by sophomore Tristan Mann. In his first varsity season, Mann had 92 tackles to go with two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Those four were joined by Newnan senior Willie Boston. Boston helped offset heavy losses due to graduation up front by recording 51 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks.
Among linebackers, all three schools also had two All-County selections.
Newnan was represented by seniors Maurice White (5-8, 224) and Cameron Walker (5-7, 204). White finished the year with 57 tackles, two sacks and 14 hurries and Walker had 53 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries. Both players were Second Team All-Region 3-AAAAAA selections.
Senior Jemarcus Godfrey was also a Second Team All-Region honoree while among a pair of All-County linebackers from East Coweta. Godfrey led the Indians with 155 tackles, including 70 solos to go with two sacks and two interceptions. He’s joined by junior Jay McKnight, who had 91 tackles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
Like Godfrey, Northgate senior Connor Usher led the Vikings in tackles this year. Usher earned his second consecutive All-County selection while finishing with 117 tackles and two fumble recoveries. Joining him is senior Dalton Lane, who had 67 tackles including 3 1/2 sacks and eight quarterback hurries.
Newnan and Northgate also had a pair of defensive backs honored on the All-County team.
Along with Matthews, the Cougars were represented by senior safety Darrell Morrow, who had 57 tackles, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, including a pair returned for touchdowns.
Not to be forgotten, senior cornerback Rodney Tennie helped carry Newnan into the postseason. Tennie closed the year with 40 tackles, 13 pass breakups and eight interceptions, five of which came in the final three games of the regular season.
Representing Northgate, junior safety Torres Johnson finished with 81 tackles, second among Viking defenders. He also caused five fumbles and added three interceptions while also playing some at linebacker as the season progressed.
Johnson is joined by senior cornerback Aaron Stargell who added 51 tackles, seven pass breakups and an interception.
East Coweta began the year trying to replace a pair of All-County players to graduation and succeeded thanks to the play of first-year starter Tyler Brown. The Indians senior played “three to four” positions during the year on defense according to head coach Clint Wade, finishing with 121 tackles, three interceptions and three pass breakups. Brown was also named to the All-Region 3-AAAAAA First Team.
The Indians were just as solid among special teams standouts this year.
In addition to returners Godfrey and Gay, senior kicker Spencer Smith was perfect on extra points, splitting the uprights on all 32 PATS. He also connected on six field goals. Smith booming leg accounted for a 36.5 average on punts.
Smith’s biggest contribution came in his ability to put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs. Smith finished 40 of 44 on touchbacks.