High School Football
Cougar sophomores make impact headed into region
by Chris Goltermann
Newnan's junior varsity football team held its own against East Coweta, defeating the rival Indians 28-22 on Thursday at Drake Stadium.
But what makes that score even more remarkable for the Cougars is the number of sophomores that instead will suit up tonight with the varsity against Tri-Cities in both teams' Region 3-AAAAAA opener at Drake Stadium.
Newnan head coach Mike McDonald and his staff had already expected an influx of youth heading into this fall. But time and time again they've had to turn to its 10th grade class to fill needs midway through the season.
'We knew we're going to have to play some sophomores this year. I didn't quite know it was going to be this many,' McDonald said. 'It is what it is and the guys are playing hard and getting better.'
Newnan is well aware of a Tri-Cities lineup that has played better than its 0-4-1 record. The Bulldogs are off to its roughest start in head coach Kenneth Miller's six years at the helm, but the non-region schedule has included losses to undefeated Creekside (33-17) and 4-1 Carver-Columbus (22-17). The team also scored quickly to begin its most recent loss to Carver-Montgomery, Ala., which is currently 3-1 overall.
'You look at their record, they've been in every game,' McDonald said. 'They're playing well. They've got some really good skill players. Their quarterback can play and the running back is good. They're not as big as last year because they were humongous [in 2012] but they've good size.' While returning just two starters on each side of the ball from last year's disappointing 4-7 lineup, which produced four Division I signees on the line of scrimmage, senior quarterback Karim Wallace is among a handful of Bulldogs that have the ability to break away for big yardage, including Tri-Cities returners on special teams.
'We've got to limit the big plays,' McDonald said. 'On kickoff returns, they've about broke one every game. [Against] Carver-Montgomery they took the ball and two plays and they got in the end zone. They've got a plan and they execute well.'
So far, the young faces that have been asked to step into Newnan's lineup, have answered in big ways.
The Cougars headed into the latter of two bye weeks after sophomore Darryel Hines debuted at running back for a three-touchdown, 176-yard effort in a 29-27 Homecoming win over a much-improved Hardaway team while carrying the ball 31 times.
The victory at Drake Stadium on Sept . 27, featured a game-high 13 tackles from another 10th grader, linebacker Emmanuel Bridges.
Tonight, the Cougars will need another a sixth sophomore to step in as a starter on offense after losing junior center David Quesinberry to a season-ending ankle injury. Tristan Gonzalez will step in as Newnan's third 10th-grader among starting linemen.
A year ago, Quesinberry filled a gaping hole at the position in the second-round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs against Colquitt County after the team lost junior center Myles Moran for the season to an injury.
'David was playing so well. That center spot is the one who has to communicate and there's the snap issue. He stepped in there against Colquitt and you wouldn't even know we missed a beat,' McDonald said of the undersized 6-0, 189-pound Quesinberry. 'His effort grade was 96-percent. That tells you what kind of kid he was. He was going to go hard every play.'
Now it's up to Gonzalez, a 5-11, 252-pound sophomore to fill a key hole for another junior starter at the position.
'Tristan's a fighter and he's worked hard,' McDonald said. 'He's practiced well and done well on the JV for us.'
Newnan has relied on its ground attack during its last two wins over Troup and Hardaway, both now at 2-4. It's the Cougars first Class AAAAAA opponent since an opening night loss to Marietta at Drake Stadium.
The Cougars have posted 197 and 229 yards rushing in respective victories and will likely have to rely on a trio of Hines, Kelvin Khayyam and Damion Key with junior standout J.K. Britt still trying to come back off a pair of ankle injuries.
Hines' effort last week came at just the right time.
'We had to get him on the field somewhere, so we tried to play him in the slot. He's a running back and figured it out real quick,' McDonald said of Hines. 'He was going to get some carries regardless. He's a tough kid and kinda got a knack for it.'
While completing 65-percent of his passes the past two weeks, junior southpaw quarterback Bailey Bryant has been held to 131 total yards passing and one touchdown in wins the past two Fridays. Drops and a recent injury to senior Immanuel Griggs has slowed production through the air.
Another sophomore, Randell Arnold, leads the Cougars with 22 of Bryant's 62 completions this year for 275 yards and three touchdowns, finishing with at least three receptions in all five non-region games this season.
'Hopefully that first five game stretch will help get us ready for what's coming,' McDonald said.