High School Football
Indians expect another region battle at Tri-Cities
by Chris Goltermann
Head coaches may not typically feel equal amounts of frustration and elation during the same football game. But East Coweta's Clint Wade was forced to tightrope both sets of emotions during a fierce 14-7 victory last week over Westlake in its Region 3-AAAAAA opener.
'The kids battled and hung in there. We didn't play exceptionally well,' Wade said. 'Defensively we hung on and played as hard as we could play. I was proud of them.'
Both the Indians and Newnan may have already experienced a level of competition last week that could dominate the region schedule over the next month to determine four state-playoff berths. Each held on for single- digit wins, with the Cougars outlasting Tri-Cities 14-9 at home. Tonight, a winless Bulldogs lineup may ready to unleash some frustration of their own after coming up short again last week when it hosts East Coweta for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
At 0-5-1 and 0-1 in region play Tri-Cities is off to its worst start in Kenneth Miller's six seasons as head coach and two seasons after finishing 10-3 in Class AAAAA. The last time the program opened the season without a win over six weeks was during an 0-6 start in 2007. That team, however, scored just 12 points over the stretch whereas the current Bulldogs lineup has continuously played tough against the likes of 7-0 Creekside (33-17) and 6-1 Carver-Columbus (22-17) in addition to last week's fivepoint loss to 4-2 Newnan.
While three more weeks remain in the schedule after tonight, dropping to 0-2 in 3-AAAAAA could put the team out of the playoff race in a hurry.
Despite graduating several linemen now at Division I schools, this year's Tri-Cities team may also be out for revenge following an embarrassing 44-15 loss at Garland Shoemake Stadium.
'We've got our work cut out for us,' Wade said. 'We're dinged up and don't have any room for error. We got after it pretty good [with them] last year and I know that game will be motivation from last year. We really got on top of them early with some turnovers and some key stops to get a lead on them quick. I don't see that happening again.'
An East Coweta lineup that hadn't had difficulty finding the end zone in its first five games saw its opportunities against Westlake dry up like the Sahara. At one point, the Indians were stymied at the Lions 2-yard line on three consecutive plays before coming up empty.
The Indians' 98 yards rushing was a season-low with the bulk coming between 25 carries from quarterback Bryce Gemmel (15-for-44) and Malik Robinson (10 for-50, TD). Gemmel was also 11 of 19 passing for 135 yards concentrated between receivers E.J. Ransom (5 rec, 65 yds) and senior Markel Boston (3 rec, 51 yds, TD).
'We had a lot of untimely mistakes in some areas,' Wade said.
It led to the staff putting both of its No. 1 units against one another during a simulated goal-line stand early in Tuesday's practice despite having concerns about losing any more players to injuries. Five consecutive plays produced a near-even amount of success from touchdowns to stops, keeping Indians coaches from naming a clear-cut winner.
'You've got to work on those things,' Wade said, while also giving credit to Westlake's turnaround over the past year under new head coach Bryan Love and offensive coordinator Jared Zito. 'Zito, we knew his background. It was cat and mouse and they had a few wrinkles that gave us some problems. But after we made some adjustments at halftime, it got a little better.'
On a night where 15 defenders made at least two tackles, East Coweta made a late stand with less than three minutes to play that pushed Westlake from inside its own 20 to back near midfield while getting sacks from linemen Noah Rutherford and Jeremiah Gemmel in the victory.
'I was still nervous,' Wade said. 'But when it came down to it on defense, we executed. We needed that. It gave them some confidence. We just want them to keep fighting.'
Senior linebacker Jay McKnight led the team with 10 tackles while Tyler Poythress came up with a pair for losses in the win.
The unit will have to try to find a way to slow down Tri-Cities senior quarterback Karim Wallace, who picked up first downs on runs of 16 and 18 yards against Newnan, joins running back Charles Middlebrooks, who broke away for another key gain on 2nd-and-25 to set up the team's lone touchdown, present possible problems for the Indians.
'They gave Newnan some fits,' Wade said. 'But it's going to be this way every week.'