Published Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Prep Football: East Coweta tries to move past loss to rivals


It wasn’t exactly the remnants left by Hurricane Sandy up north. But East Coweta’s football practices this week so far have taken a feel as if the Indians had gone through a similar-type disaster last Friday night.

That’s always the case this time of year when it comes to East Coweta and Newnan. For one school it’s elation. For the losing team, however, the feeling is devastation.

“The toughest part of this game is the following week if you lose it,” said East Coweta athletic director and former Cougars football assistant Ken Kesselring prior to last Friday’s 21-7 victory by Newnan at Garland Shoemake Stadium. “We went through it last year.”

Last year, the Cougars were the ones who opened the state playoffs trying to get over an equally disappointing loss to the Indians. They too looked lethargic much of the early part of the following week.

Yet Newnan managed to roll into Valdosta for an impressive 17-7 upset victory to right themselves just as quickly.

“I remember we didn’t practice well at all that week,” Kesselring said. “Then we went down to Valdosta and played our best game of the season.”

That itself might be the most promising news for East Coweta heading into Friday’s first-round Class AAAAAA state playoff game at Newton in a matchup of former Region 2-AAAAA rivals.

This year, the 5-5 Rams finished second in Region 2-AAAAAA well behind No. 7 state-ranked Lovejoy (9-1), which obliterated everyone in its path outside a 14-7 loss to Colquitt County.

“They’re physical and they’ve got a lot of speed. We’ve got to get our guys around the football,” said Indians head coach Clint Wade of Newton. “[They’re] very similar to what we’ve seen from them [the last two years]. But they’ve got some new players in there too.”

It’s a chance at revenge for Newton, which was bounced from state playoff contention following East Coweta’s 28-25 win over Newnan in last year’s regular season finale.

Newton and East Coweta (4-6) have taken similar paths in 2012 since parting ways as region rivals through the latest reclassification period. Also faced with scheduling a large number of non-region opponents, the Rams opened 0-4 while being outscored 104-7 in the first month of the season while losing to rival Eastside (7-3), Lowndes (9-1), Valdosta (7-3) and Langston Hughes (9-1).

The Indians, meanwhile, dropped four straight to non-region opponents including the losses to Lovejoy (9-1) and Sandy Creek (10-0). But the team showed its resiliency during the 3-AAAAAA schedule to win three of its final five games while earning the program’s 16th consecutive trip to the state playoffs.

East Coweta’s sixth loss, however, may be tougher to swallow, especially after falling apart in the second half of a 7-7 game against Newnan. The Indians weren’t the same after going into halftime, having been denied a go-ahead touchdown pass while being called for an illegal man downfield.

In all, East Coweta turned the ball over four times, including three interceptions while continuing to struggle with allowing big plays defensively including a 54-yard touchdown pass to Newnan senior Traon Moss. It’s been the recipe for disaster for a young Indians lineup that has played just as well during points of the Region 3-AAAAAA schedule.

The Indians have allowed touchdowns on gains of at least 30 or more yards at least seven times this year including Moss’ catch and run last week.

Newton continues to run multiple looks on offense and has been able to reload on offense with the help of sophomore first-year starter Kemani Pittman, who had 155 yards of total offense in last week’s easy 40-0 win over Morrow. The backfield includes senior Darius Dean and transfer James Hardeman to go with a line returning junior guards Daniel Durden (6-1, 260) and Corey Thomas (6-2, 300).

“Their quarterback is a good player. We’ll have our work cut out for ourselves,” Wade said. “Our offense has to excel at moving the ball to keep them off the field.”

East Coweta’s offensive line will have to give Indians junior first-year quarterback Bryce Gemmel time to throw while facing two standout defenders up front in seniors Kingsley Ejike (6-3, 220) and noseman Treyvon Richardson (6-4, 320), a starter since his sophomore year. Nick White has been a two-way standout at receiver and in the secondary for Newton while posting three interceptions in this year’s win over Luella.

Still much of the Indians’ chances for success will include the team moving past the letdown to their closest rival following plenty of hype leading up to the game.

“That game is what we’ve tried to prepare them for all season. Dealing with the adversity,” Wade said. “So far they have been able to handle it. But we’re going to have to put it all together pretty quick if we want to keep this thing going.”

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