Published Sunday, November 18, 2012
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
When facing Newnan High, opposing quarterbacks were warned from the beginning of the season about the dangers of throwing footballs in the direction of No. 28.
That list, however, may have a new rule listed as No. 1.
Senior cornerback Rodney Tennie has continued to make opponents pay for choosing to throw in his direction. A week after hauling a pair of interceptions while matched up against a much-taller receiver in East Coweta’s Markel Boston, Tennie ran another back for a touchdown during Friday’s 38-0 first-round playoff victory.
He now has five interceptions for the season.
“We knew Tennie was a good player on film,” said East Coweta head coach Clint Wade last week in practice. “But he really impressed me seeing him in action. He’s one heck of a player.”
The 5-8 Tennie — who showcased his defense as an starting outfielder on Newnan’s baseball team last spring — has further solidified a Cougar secondary that already began the year with standout seniors Tray Matthews, the target of the above warnings, and Darrell Morrow at the safety positions.
Along with the continued emergence of running back J.K. Britt in a dual role at cornerback while rotating with senior Sanchez Woods, the unit may provide a bit of a safety blanket for a Newnan defense that has now allowed just seven points in its last 12 quarters of play.
Expect the Cougars defense to be on call even more for this Friday’s second-round Class AAAAAA playoff game at home against a dangerous Colquitt County lineup that knocked out Region 5-AAAAA champion and No. 9 state-ranked McEachern 30-27, for its ninth road-playoff victory over the last four seasons under head coach Rush Probst.
The Packers, ranked No. 10 in the state, have reached at least the state semifinals each of the last three seasons under Probst, who arrived from Hoover, Ala., in 2008. Despite losing seven games within region lineups including fellow juggernauts Camden County, Valdosta and Lowdnes during that span, Colquitt has been at their best at playoff time.
Newnan’s defense will have to try and slow senior quarterback Cole Segraves, who was 22 of 27 passing for 354 yards on Friday. Bobby Hill was Segraves’ top target with 11 catches for 158 yards.
Segraves and the Packers eliminated East Coweta with a 31-10 victory in the first round of last year’s Class AAAAA playoffs, going 15 of 22 for 212 yards and a touchdown against the Indians. He lost his starting job early in the 2012 season, but regained it after a shoulder injury to junior Daniel Mobley.
The focus will be on standout junior middle linebacker Tonarus Portress, who had a team-high 11 tackles two weeks ago against East Coweta, to help keep the pressure on Segraves this week, especially with the status of Cougars sophomore starting quarterback Bailey Bryant in doubt.
Bryant suffered an injury to his left throwing shoulder during the opening minutes of the second half trying to corral a misguided snap near the Alcovy goal-line. It came after Newnan lost starting center Myles Moran to an injury.
If the injury follows along the line of one to Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last Monday night, it’s unlikely Bryant will be on the field this Friday.
Backup Diamond Jones guided Newnan to a pair of scoring drives in the second half. He’ll have the benefit of another hot target in senior receiver Traon Moss, who continued to showcase his abilities with a highlight-reel worthy catch near the goal-line that set up a 2-yard scoring run.
• ROAD GETS LONGER FOR EAST COWETA
East Coweta’s road playoff win on Friday, a 25-20 victory at Newton, gave the program its first celebratory bus ride home in the postseason since a 2002 win over Coffee. The last four seasons, the Indians have come home empty handed in trips to Colquitt (31-10), McEachern (31-19 in 2010), Lowndes (52-14 in 2009) and Bradwell Institute (19-7 in 2008).
East Coweta’s reward, however, might not have been so rewarding on paper.
The Indians will now make a four-hour trip to Kingsland on Black Friday to No. 4 state-ranked Camden County (10-1), which reached the 10-win plateau for the 12th consecutive year under head coach Jeff Herron won Friday with a 52-17 first-round playoff win over Hillgrove. Hillgrove had been the last team to knock the Wildcats out in the second round, doing it on its home field with a 28-26 win in 2010.
Camden (11-0) went undefeated during a regular season that included a Region 1-AAAAAA championship.
Heading into last Friday’s first-round game, East Coweta head coach Clint Wade was gung-ho about the thought, while now hoping his perspective rubs off on the Indians (5-6), who will be heavy underdogs around the state.
“Hey, if it’s (Camden), let’s go,” Wade said. “We’ll go there, play our best and let the chips fall where they may.”
• TURNOVERS PLAY HUGE ROLE
Turnovers played a role in all five games played by county lineups on Friday, proving how important hanging on to the football is come playoff time.
At Newnan, Tennie’s interception brought points, but the bigger impact came on the fumbled snap that forced Bryant to the sidelines to an injury. Ricky Kirkland also recovered an Alcovy fumble for the Cougars at the Newnan 32 to help keep the shutout
At Newton, East Coweta’s Dee Godfrey came up with a leaping interception with 9:06 left in the game with the host Rams trying to get back in the game, trailing 22-12. Late in the third, the Indians recovered a fumble on the Newton 29-yard line leading 15-12 and turned it into a touchdown.
At Westfield, Trinity Christian hurt its chances of advancing to the GISA semifinals with costly turnovers. A botched snap on fourth-and-goal near the Westfield 1, left the Lions trailing 3-0 at halftime. Trinity’s Dee Snelling also couldn’t hang on during a punt return deep into Hornets territory with six minutes left in a 10-7 game.
At Harris County, the Tigers converted two Northgate turnovers into 10 points and never looked back. Harris had two interceptions in a 31-14 victory.
• GOING DEEP
The Heritage School now stands one victory from reaching its first trip to a GISA football championship game. In a year of firsts, it’s just another step for the Hawks who have now posted the program’s first 10-win season while also winning a region title for the first time in its seven-year history.
Westfield and Heritage, like Trinity, scrimmaged each other in the preseason and both enter this week with run-oriented offenses. The Hawks use the option while the Hornets run the wing-T.
On Friday, though, Heritage second-year head coach Kevin Prisant continued to keep opposing defenses guessing. A week after using an 85-yard catch and run by Candler Rich to help race past Trinity, Hawks senior quarterback found tight end Tyler Henson and 6-foot-5 wideout Garrett Jones for scores.
Jones, a standout basketball center, juggled a catch en route to a 75-yard score while Henson opened the scoring on an 80-yard touchdown. Those three, along with talented freshman receiver Spencer Perry, may give Westfield’s defense enough examples to not stack the defensive line this week at Heritage.
While this is the Hawks’ first semifinal appearance, it’s the third time over the last four years that the Hornets have reached the Final Four under head coach Ronnie Jones.
• TOUGH ENDINGS
Both Northgate and Trinity saw 2012 seasons come to a close on Friday while unable to take advantage of opportunities. The Vikings (5-6) seemed poised to capitalize on a fumble recovery inside the Harris County 10-yard line to start the game, but gave the ball back en route to a 31-14 loss.
Suffering a string of injuries and heavy losses to graduation, Northgate struggled to recreate the same momentum from last year’s 11-1 season. The non-region schedule was equally tough, but seemed to have the Vikings ready for postseason play after reeling off three straight wins to close the regular season, including a 15-3 victory in the Region 4-AAAAA play-in game.
Trinity (6-5), meanwhile, never was able to catch a break in its 10-7 loss to Westfield that followed a trend of close losses during a turnaround season.
A year after allowing at least 28 points in eight of its 10 games, the Lions held opponents to an average of 15.6 points in 2012. In three of its five losses, Trinity led opponents at halftime and only trailed Westfield 3-0 going into the break on Friday night.
“We’ve just got to learn how to finish games, that’s all,” said Trinity second year head coach Chris Hanson. “I think the future is bright for this program. We went from 2-8 last year to finishing the regular season 6-4. I think this year we’ve proved that we belong in this league.”