Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012
By DOUG GORMAN
Injuries are a part of football and Newnan head coach Mike McDonald will be one of the first to admit it.
That’s why he isn’t dwelling on the fact that starting sophomore quarterback Bailey Bryant may not play in Friday’s second round playoff game at home against 8-3 Colquitt County, the No. 3 seed from Region 1-AAAAAA.
Bryant, who had started every game for the Cougars this season, injured his shoulder in the third quarter of last week’s 37-0 victory over Alcovy. Bryant left following in the first series of the second half after trying to recover a fumble down at the Alcovy goal line.
The sophomore quarterback had enjoyed plenty of success in his first year as a starter adjusting to the speed of the high school game at Class AAAAAA level. Before the injury, Bryant was 9 of 10 passing for 117 yards and a touchdown.
McDonald isn’t saying a whole lot about Bailey’s chances of starting against Colquitt County. But it’s not like Newnan hasn’t been here before.
At 9-2 overall, the Cougars are making their sixth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16. But they’ll also be facing a Colquitt program that’s won nine road playoff games since the 2008 season including last week’s 30-28 “upset” of Region 5-AAAAAA champion McEachern.
“We are going into it to do what we have to do to win the football game,” McDonald said.
Colquitt, ranked ninth in the final AP prep poll of the regular season, enters with an impressive resume that includes a 13-12 victory over Camden County (10-1), which hosts East Coweta on Friday. The Packers finished third in Region 1-AAAAAA a year after reaching last year’s Class AAAAA semifinals and falling 35-31 to Grayson on the road.
With school out all week for Thanksgiving, Newnan has practiced in the morning with plenty of energy. McDonald has reminded his team they are going to have to be ready no matter who is in the game.
“We are going to have to have some other guys step up and make some plays,” he said.
Newnan will continue to practice in the morning, including Thanksgiving Day, and come in Friday, eat a pre-game meal in the afternoon and get ready for contest.
“We are going to try and keep things as normal as possible on Friday,” he said.
Colquitt will make its second straight long bus ride in hopes of winning the second-round playoff game.
Last week, the Packers traded leads with McEachern several times before holding on for a 30-28 lead in a contest that went down to the wire and wasn’t decided until the last minute. Colquitt, which won its only state title in 1994, stopped a potential game-winning drive when Bull Barge came up with an interception. From there, the Packers were able to run out the clock.
Newnan’s Diamond Jones stepped in at quarterback once Bailey went out of the game and helped led the team to victory. Jones connected on several nice passes during the second half for the Cougars to help them put the game away.
Newnan has now won first-round playoff games for five years in a row.
Regardless of who plays under center for the Cougars, Newnan will have to rely heavily on its defense.
“Colquitt is very good,” McDonald said. “They are very explosive. They can run or pass the football.”
Newnan’s defense has stepped up all season, especially lately.
The Cougars come into the game giving up slightly more 16 points per game.
Newnan has given up just seven points the last three games and pitched two shutouts in three weeks. In addition to keeping Alcovy off the scoreboard last week, Newnan also shutout Westlake 24-0 three weeks ago.
Cornerback Rodney Tennie has four interception the past two games for the Cougars including one last week he returned for a touchdown shortly after Bryant left the game.
Tonaris Portress, Cameron Walker and Tray Matthews enter the second round of the playoffs as the Cougars leading tacklers and they will be challenged to stop a Packer squad that is dangerous regardless of how they choose to move the football.
In their first-round victory at McEachern, the Packers generated 467 yards of total offense.
Senior quarterback Cole Segraves has Colquitt poised for a return to the Elite 8 after leading the team during last year’s playoffs. But Segraves did it after losing his starting job this year to junior Daniel Mobley following a 17-14 loss to Lowndes on Sept. 28 in what became a platoon at the position.
With Mobley out to an injury last week, Segraves was 22 of 28 passing for 354 yards with both Bobby Hill (11 rec., 158) and Todd Boyd (3 rec., 118) finishing with over 100 yards receiving. Hill enters this week with 71 receptions and should be a test for what has been a standout group of Newnan defensive backs this year.
“We are just excited to be here,” said senior cornerback Rodney Tennie, who now has five interceptions and three in his last two games. “We want to be able to take this as far as possible.”
The Cougars come into the second-round playoff game riding a four-game winning streak.
After losing to Langston Hughes in a game that cost the Cougars a chance at the Region 3-AAAAAA title, they haven’t backed down to anybody, scoring at least 21 points in their final four games.
Before Bailey’s injury, the Cougars were relying heavily on the pass to move the ball down field with Traon Moss and Matthews each zeroing in on 30 catches this season and seven touchdowns.
Matthews was wide open on a pass from Bailey right before halftime last week that he caught and turned into a 39-yard touchdown.
Lately, the Cougars running attack is also starting to spring to life. Quinton Dix rushed for nearly 100 yards last week. He also scored the first touchdown of the game. J.K. Britt has turned into a double threat for the Cougars with his ability to catch the ball coming out of the backfield.
Kelvin Khayyam scored twice late last week to put the game away, rushing to the end zone on runs of 2 and 9 yards.
Khayyam's first touchdown was set up when Jones threw his best pass of the night to Moss, who tight-roped the sidelines to make the catch near the goalline.
“Defensively, they (Colquitt) are very big. They fly around pretty good. So we are going to have our hands full,” McDonald said.
This will be the third game between the two teams. All three have come in the playoffs at Drake Stadium.
Newnan won the last meeting 21-14 in 2003, but lost 28-17 in 1993.
The winner of Friday’s game moves on to play either Parkview or West Forsyth in next week’s quarterfinals.