Worst case scenario for Cougars in 52-21 loss

by Chris Goltermann


Newnan’s Mark Harris, right, takes down Marietta quaterback brenton Martin for a loss during Friday’s season opener at Drake Stadium. Martin, however, managed to bounce back to throw for 248 yards and five touchdowns. 

Newnan and Marietta entered the 2013 football season wondering how its team could handle the loss of a star player now making waves as a freshman in the Southeastern Conference. Both found out answers during Friday's opener that were as much a variation as their final totals on the Drake Stadium scoreboard.

Blue Devils junior quarterback Brenton Martin, taking over for LSU freshman Anthony Jennings, threw for 248 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters against a Cougars defense that suddenly looked vulnerable minus Georgia freshman safety Tray Matthews in a 52-21 Marietta victory that brought all of Newnan head coach Mike McDonald's worst fears to life after having last week's scrimmage game against Griffin canceled due to weather.

The end result left the Cougars making their first mistakes of the year in a live setting and inability to limit mistakes against a strong opponent provided a combination that worked too many times in the Blue Devils' favor.

'You can't make excuses on [the scrimmage]. Yeah, it would have helped us. But we obviously didn't play very well,' McDonald said. 'You've got to give them credit. We had a chance to overcome it and they made plays and we didn't.'

Newnan's first loss in a season opener since 2006 also snapped a three-game winning streak against Marietta.

Unlike last year's nip-and-tuck contest that wound up being the difference between Newnan's 9-3 season and Marietta's mark of 8-4 last fall, the Blue Devils used a 28-point third quarter on Friday to send a 17-7 game at halftime out of reach.

By the time the final period rolled around, the visitors from Cobb were satisfied with running the ball and chewing up clock after a third quarter that saw both teams score six times and lasted 53 minutes.

Able to withstand a fumble and a blocked punt that helped push the Blue Devils ahead 17-7 at halftime with help of 12 of Marietta's 17 penalties committed in the game, the Cougars watched a much slimmer 10-point deficit implode at the right-hand of Martin.

Newnan, which trailed from start to finish, opened the game by picking off Martin to close Marietta's opening series, but never could capitalize on the Blue Devils' mistakes, turning the ball over on downs inside the opposing 30 early on after falling behind 3-0 on Ian Shannon's 45-yard field goal when Marietta made the most of Kelvin Khayyam's fumble at the Cougars' 22-yard line.

'We had some opportunities and defensively only gave up 80 yards the first half,' McDonald said. 'Fumbles, big plays and busted coverages. [cost us].'

By halftime, Newnan had 127 total yards to Marietta's 148, with the Blue Devils managing just one more first down.

Martin, last year's backup at Marietta, made the most of his first start by leading the team on six consecutive scoring drives and utilizing all of the skill surrounding him despite the loss of Jennings, who has moved up to No. 2 on LSU's depth charts during the preseason.

It culminated with Marietta scoring on its first four drives of the third quarter, the first while converting Newnan's second lost fumble of the game.

In all, a young Cougars lineup that returned four starters on each side of the ball and only one player from last year's starting secondary found itself dominated in all three phases despite three touchdown passes from junior quarterback Bailey Bryant.

Bryant threw for 217 yards on 9 of 21 passing, with 141 of the total coming on two balls that went for touchdowns to new starting receivers Immanuel Griggs and

Chrishawn Dix. The Newnan second-year quarterback also suffered from a couple of drops and a ball that seemed destined for another long score only to see his target struggle to find it for an incomplete pass.

Meanwhile, the Cougars' defense had no answer for a Marietta offense that also include track star KirVonte' Benson, a state champion in the 100 meters, who ate up most of his 144 yards rushing between 20 yard-lines on drives that immediately swung field position in the opposite direction.

Newnan started seven drives at its own 20 on touchbacks by Shannon, punting six times and holding the ball just twice in the fourth quarter.

Marietta's top-two returning receivers - Jordan Mathis and Marcus Bennett - each caught a pair of Martin's scoring throws, all but one with a hand in front of a Blue Devil player's facemask.

Each converted throws in the final five minutes of the second half from the Cougar 20-yard line, Mathis by himself on a broken coverage on the first to push Newnan ahead 10-0, before Bennett juked linebacker Terence Geter along the left sidelines after his catch and snuck in with just under a minute left in the half to push the lead further to 17-0.

Newnan tried to give itself life heading into halftime with its best march of the night in hurry-up mode.

A rare kickoff return allowed by Marietta that got the Cougars past the 20, along with five snaps moved the offense downfield in time for Bryant to loft a pass to the 6-foot-8 Griggs on a fade route to close to within 10 points at the break and the ball to start the second half.

Instead, Newnan coughed it back up six plays into the third after moving the ball into Marietta territory. In all, the Cougars fumbled five times, including a couple on snaps that got away from center.

The Blue Devils needed six plays to cash in again when Martin found Mathis for his second score for a 23-7 lead.

Bryant and Dix quickly connected on an 80-yard strike when play from scrimmage resumed on the following possession.

But a 23-14 deficit was as close as the Cougars came despite a nifty 61-yard catch and run for a touchdown by Randall Arnold late in the third to spring free on a short route.

Marietta pulled away by scoring on its next three drives starting with a 75-yard strike to Bennett while facing 3rd and 21. 'We've got to go back and reevaluate and see if we've got guys in the right spots,' McDonald said. 'What we've got is what we've got and we've just got to try and get better.'

Blue Devils 52, Cougars 21 Marietta 3 14 28 7 - 52 Newnan 0 7 14 0 - 21 1st Quarter M - Ian Shannon 45 yard FG, 5:22 2nd Quarter M – Jordan Mathis 21 pass from Brenton Martin (Shannon kick), 4:58 M - Marcus Bennett 20 pass from Brenton Martin (Shannon kick), :50 N - Immanuel Griggs 11 pass from Bailey Bryant (Connor Cox kick), :06 3rd Quarter M - Jordan Mathis 7 pass from Brenton Martin (kick failed), 8:38 N - Chrishawn Dix 80 pass from Bailey Bryant (Cox kick), 8:16 M - Marcus Bennett 75 pass from Brenton Martin (Mathis 2pt run), M - Tyrell Tomlin 10 run (Shannon kick), 5:32 M - Marlon Gober 13 pass from Brenton Martin (Shannon kick), 1:27 N - Randell Arnold 61 pass from Bailey Bryant (Cox kick), 1:12 4th Quarter M - Nakia Bernard 2 run (Shannon kick), 1:17

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