Cougars, Grangers meet for preseason scrimmage
by Chris Goltermann
For the first time in a decade, Newnan and LaGrange won’t face each other on the football field during the regular season. Instead, a near annual rivalry continues tonight with the schools helping each other out as scrimmage opponents.
The Cougars, who held an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, get a chance to test themselves against someone wearing pads in other than navy, white and gold at Drake Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. start.
It’ll be Newnan’s last opportunity before its Aug. 29 opener at Carrollton, last year’s Class AAAA state runner-up.
It’s also a chance for the Cougars to give a new-look offense — and a defense that also has gone through a bit of tweaking — their first official tests.
“The first three quarters will be the varsity guys and then the fourth quarter will be JV,” said Cougars head coach Mike McDonald of tonight’s format. “We’ll kick in the first three quarters.”
Every potential snap tonight could help Newnan gain ground in its attempt to tackle a schedule that begins with three non-region games against opponents that went a combined 36-6-1 a year ago. Along with Carrollton, the Cougars will host Marietta and Sandy Creek before getting a week off to prepare for region play.
“We’ve had some tough stretches before, but those first three this year may take the cake,” McDonald said. “It’s just one of those things. We had some other offers elsewhere, but why be forced to have to get out of school at 1 o’clock and travel when you can play just as good a quality of opponent right around here.”
Newnan, which returns seven players who contributed on defense last year and another nine on offense — including three sophomore linemen who were thrust into starting jobs during the final five games of 2013 — has reasons to feel better about its chances in Region 3-AAAAAA after finishing 6-5 a year ago.
A shift to an offense that while maintaining multiple looks will be based more out of the I-formation, takes shape from Newnan’s depth at running back and its youth at receiver. The Cougars have at least five players working in the backfield including seniors J.K. Britt and Kelvin Khayyam, as well as junior Darryel Hines. All three gained at least 400 yards rushing last year, with the latter duo carrying the brunt of the load with Britt battling through a pair of ankle injuries.
Britt, who verbally committed to North Carolina during the summer, is back to 100-percent health following the first major injuries of his career. On defense, he anchors what should be a tested lineup that includes the return of cornerback Frankie Williams and All-Region line- backer Emmanuel Bridges.
This year’s defense is under the guidance of co-coordinators LaVarrett Pearson and first-year assistant Marvell McKelphin, a longtime assistant and coordinator at Carrollton for the past 10-plus years.
LaGrange, meanwhile, is also going through its share of transition. It’s the Grangers first game under new head coach Dialleo Burks, who returns to his alma mater after working at LaFayette, Ala. High. Burks also was an assistant at LaGrange College from 2006-09.
The teams have faced each other 65 times since 1908 and all but six years since 1968. The Cougars dominated 10 meetings since resuming play in 2004, winning the past seven including last year’s 42-20 victory on Aug. 30.