High School Football
Back to the drawing board for Cougars
by Chris Goltermann
It was hard to tell who could have taken a bigger hit to the ego recently, actor Ben Affleck or Newnan’s football team.
Last week’s happenings left many shaking their heads regarding one or the other. But while the next actor reported to don Batman’s cowl will have to wait for two more years to prove skeptics wrong, the Cougars have an immediate oppor- tunity this week to show that a 52-21 loss to Marietta was inconsistent with the type of effort the team will showcase on the field in 2013.
While there’s still plenty of potential and an unblemished record in 3-AAAAAA toward Newnan’s hopes of returning to the state playoffs, Friday’s effort certainly wasn’t pretty on paper coming off the Cougars’ 9-3 finish last season.
The 52 points allowed to the Blue Devils, who scored on six consecutive posses- sions between the second and third quarters, were the most in head coach Mike McDon- ald’s six seasons as head coach and the first time Newnan had given up 50 since a playoff loss to Camden County in 2005.
A Newnan team also hadn’t allowed 50 points to a regular-season opponent since a 55-7 loss at Griffin in 1980.
The road back to respect- ability doesn’t get any eas- ier with a trip to Callaway Stadium on Friday against LaGrange and another bus ride on Sept. 6 to play two-time defending Class AAAA champion Sandy Creek.
After losing 14 starters, split equally on either side of the ball, the Cougars’ influx of inexperience and youth stumbled out of the gate after having its preseason scrimmage canceled by Griffin due to weather.
“We’ve got to go back and reevaluate and see if we’ve got guys in the right spots,” McDonald said following the loss. “What we’ve got is what we’ve got and we’ve just got to try and get better.”
Avoiding an 0-2 start this week against a LaGrange team that steamrolled Valley, Ala., 34-0 in its scrimmage last Thursday will mean correcting miscues in all three phases that hampered the Cougars against Marietta during a tight game that spiraled out of control. Four third-quaArter touchdowns by the Blue Devils on consecutive drives put the game out of reach while unable to slow down junior quarter-back Brenton Martin.
After the Marietta quarterback was intercepted on the first drive as a starter in what seemed an equally positive sign for Newnan’s young secondary, Martin recovered to throw for 249 yards and five touchdowns while missing his target just four times the rest of the way on 14 of 19 passing.
Martin’s poise helped Marietta pull away in the third, despite Newnan’s attempts to get back in the game with a pair of touchdown throws from Bailey Bryant to receiv- ers Chrishawn Dix and Randell Arnold.
The Cougars opened the second half trailing by 10 points, only to see a fumbled catch inside Marietta territory end much of the momen- tum Newnan had built in the final minutes of the first half to pull within a 17-7 deficit at the break and the ball to begin the third quarter.
Newnan put the ball on the ground five times, losing two fumbles and having two snaps get away from Bryant to go with allowing a blocked punt on special teams.
“We had some opportunities, had the interception early and good field position,” McDonald said. “Defensively we didn’t give up that many yards in the first half and we got some momentum going. The fumbles hurt us.”
The Blue Devils converted the fumble into the first of four consecutive scores in the third on drives of 62, 75, 49 and 37 yards. The first three were hampered by missed tackles or blown coverages. The latter saw a bad snap push Newnan’s offense deep in its own territory followed by a short punt that gave Marietta first down inside the Cougar 40-yard-line. Newnan’s first four pos- sessions of the third quarter started at its own 20 as the result of touchbacks by Marietta kicker Ian Shannon. The Blue Devils used Shannon’s 45-yard field goal and the punt block to convert 10 of their 17 points at halftime.
Cougar defenders struggled at key times to wrap up speedy junior tailback Kirvonte’ Ben- son, who broke off a 41-yard run on the Blue Devils initial scoring drive in the third to set up Martin’s second touchdown pass of the game. Benson finished with 149 yards on 17 carries.
While pressured numerous times by the Cougars front eight in an effort led by end Mark Harris and 6-1 200- pound sophomore linebacker Emmanuel Bridges — in a steady debut — Martin broke away too often to find open receivers standing alone.
They included a 75-yard strike from Martin to Mar- cus Bennett after Newnan had pulled to within a 23-14 deficit with 8:14 left in the third with Marietta facing third-and-21.
Four Cougars missed tackles on a 40-yard run by Benson on the Blue Devils’ next posses- sion, scoring from the Cougar 10 on the following snap for a 38-14 lead.
Following Newnan’s short punt late in the quarter, Mar- tin then converted on third- and-13 by finding Jordan Mathis for a catch in double coverage after scrambling to make a throw. Two plays later, Martin connected on his fifth scoring throw of the game for a 45-14 advantage with under two minutes left in the third period.
Harris and Bridges each finished with at least one sack for Newnan to go with Frankie Williams’ first-quarter interception.
Bryant threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns among offensive leaders. Junior tail- back J.K. Britt finished with 81 yards rushing on 14 carries. Arnold and Dix each had over 80 yards receiving while senior Immanuel Griggs finished with two catches for 26 yards and a touchdown.
Five of the county’s high school football programs will be in action this Friday for the first time including home openers for both East Coweta (Henry County) and North- gate (Heritage-Conyers). The Heritage School and Trinity Christian begin the 2013 sea- son on the road with trips to Flint River and John Milledge Academy, respectively.