Published Friday, November 23, 2012
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
There’s a reason why the path to winning a state football championship is often referred in the same context as mountain climbing. And if so, Newnan and East Coweta both would have reached the first summit last Friday with plenty of stamina remaining for the next climb.
Tonight, however, is all about surviving a potential avalanche.
The Cougars (9-2), likely without starting sophomore quarterback Bailey Bryant, host arguably the best road playoff team in the state in what may nullify home-field advantage for their second-round game at Drake Stadium against No. 9-ranked Colquitt County (8-3), which has won nine postseason games outside of Moultrie over the past four years.
The Indians (5-6), meanwhile, are facing a five-hour trek to the furthest corner of the state just to get to kickoff against a 10-1 Camden County lineup ranked fourth in Class AAAAAA, and now among the top-three championship contenders after No. 1 Lassiter lost its footing in the first round.
For both county lineups, it’ll take the best efforts of the 2012 season so far to avoid a similar fate. Kickoffs are set for 7:30 p.m., with ticket prices set at $12 per GHSA bylaws.
Newnan marched into the second round of the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year with plenty to brag about. A balanced defense, which had to overcome heavy losses to graduation on the line, has held its own, especially in the last three weeks while outscoring opponents 83-7 during the span. Senior cornerback Rodney Tennie has led the most recent surge with five interceptions over the last three victories, while now posting a team-high six overall.
But it’s also the first time the Cougars have faced a team with a winning record since being overrun by eventual Region 3-AAAAAA champion Langston Hughes on their home field in mid-October. Newnan’s only victories against winning lineups came in the first two weeks to the season against Marietta and LaGrange. Both, however, have also advanced to the second round as well.
The Cougars will have to try and slow Colquitt from last week’s pace under senior quarterback Cole Segraves, who earned a bit of redemption in a ‘upset’ victory over Region 4-AAAAAA champion McEachern last week on the road in Cobb County. Segraves helped eliminate East Coweta in last year’s playoff opener, but lost his starting job after the Packers lost to region rival Lowndes 17-14 in mid-September.
He regained it, though, in time to combine for 160 yards passing and 164 rushing to hand Camden its only loss during the final week of the regular season. That carried over into the playoffs for a school-record tying 354-yards passing in last week’s victory over McEachern.
Newnan, meanwhile, understands how important the role a quarterback can play in a team’s success, having watched Bryant emerge as a star in the making during his first year behind center. The sophomore southpaw had attempted every varsity pass for the Cougars this year up until suffering an injury to his left throwing shoulder while trying to dive on a loose ball inside Alcovy’s 2-yard line during last week’s 38-0 blowout of the Tigers.
Bryant, who has thrown for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns in his varsity debut, hasn’t seen the field since. While head coach Mike McDonald has remained optimistic, it’s more likely that junior Diamond Jones will start tonight in Bryant’s place. Newnan is also without center Myles Moran while having to shift offensive linemen around during last week’s game.
East Coweta enters tonight’s game at Camden County closer to full strength, but needing to cover arguably twice as much ground. The Wildcats’ wing-T offense resembles little of its traditional look outside of its three-back set. While averaging close to 300 yards rushing per game - with at least 10 runners carrying the ball a dozen times this year - Camden’s offense also boasts senior quarterback Bryce Ramsey, who has verbally committed to Georgia.
Ramsey, who is also a special teams standout averaging over 38 yards per punt and with range of 50 yards on field goals, has thrown for over 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns to just one interception through 11 games.
Allowing big plays has been the Indians’ weakness on defense, one the team avoided in its 25-20 first-round playoff victory over Newton last week in Covington. The Rams tried to employ a no-huddle offense with hopes of keeping the Indians scrambling to no avail, with a late interception by senior Dee Godfrey highlighting the effort.
East Coweta’s offense - which began the year with two returning starters including Godfrey at running back - has shown it can move the ball effectively. Godfrey eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time last week and first-year junior quarterback Bryce Gemmel is over the 1,500 mark for passing yards while getting big contributions from Godfrey and receivers Nigel Gay, Markel Boston and Wyatt Potter.
Camden’s defense has brought plenty of pressure while holding opponents to just 82 points all season for a paltry 7.5 scoring average. The Wildcats have posted 29 sacks and recorded 11 interceptions, including a team-high five by junior Kalvaraz Bessant.