Newnan eager to get another crack at East Coweta
By DOUG GORMAN
The Newnan Cougars are a team of few words when it comes to describing just how they feel heading into Friday night’s game with rival East Coweta.
With the two-word slogan “Beat EC” emblazoned on a Newnan High School football website this week, the message is loud and clear about the Cougars’ thought process.
After letting a 19-0 halftime lead turn into a 28-25 loss last year, Newnan has had this game circled on its calendar for the past 12 months and certainly has revenge on its mind as it makes the short jaunt down the road to Garland Shoemake Stadium in Sharpsburg.
This time the stakes are even higher for both teams with the winner securing the home field for the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
“It’s a big game,” Newnan head coach Mike McDonald said. “It always is. It usually means something. Not just bragging rights. This year, it decides whether you stay home or go on the road for the first round of the playoffs.”
Newnan enters the game with a 7-2 overall record and a 3-1 mark in the region. East Coweta has struggled some this year with a 4-5 record, but is also 3-1 in league play, putting the Cougars and Indians in a tie for second place.
The Cougars and Indians both fell to Langston Hughes, which won the regular-season region title and secured the No. 1 seed.
Watching what seemed to be a sure victory turn into a stunning defeat last year against the Indians helped the Cougars grow up.
“We can’t take them for granted,” said senior Tray Matthews, who is getting ready to play in his fourth and final installment of Newnan-East Coweta rivalry, “We have to go hard every play.”
Matthews is the team’s leading receiver on offense with 26 catches and six touchdowns and an all-state caliber defensive back on the other side of the ball, but it is his cousin who lineups in the backfield and the secondary for East Coweta, who could be a thorn in Newnan’s side this week.
Godfrey is East Coweta’s leading rusher with more than 700 yards, and player everybody on the Cougars’ sideline knows about.
“He is dangerous,” said McDonald. “He can break free and he is hard to stop. Their quarterback (Bryce Gemmel) also seems to be settling in and doing a good job.”
Like Gemmel, Newnan sophomore quarterback Bailey Bryant is also getting ready to lineup under center in the first Newnan-East Coweta rivalry.
The sophomore quarterback has passed for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns to set up Friday’s renewal of the rivalry. A year ago, Bryant started on the junior varsity and watched from the sidelines as the varsity blew the second-half lead.
He knows what this game means to each community.
“They have a good team, but we have a good game plan,” Bryant said. “I think if we can execute the plays, we will be successful.”
Senior Running back Quinton Dix, who is the team’s leading rusher, knows a win keeps the team home for the first round of the playoffs, but also sends this year’s senior class out winner against their biggest rivals.
“To win would be huge,” Dix said. “We felt like we should have won last year after going up 19-0 at the half, then giving up those points in the second half. It just goes to show you can’t count anybody out.”
At times, McDonald has watched his team ride a roller coaster of success and failures.
The Cougars, now more than ever, wish they could throw out their 34-14 region loss to Langston Hughes two weeks ago, but since then, they have won twice, beating Douglas County 21-13 and Westlake 24-0 to force this week’s battle with the Indians for second place.
Newnan has shown its ability to comeback. In its first three wins, the Cougars fell behind at one stretch before rallying for the win.
“We are a resilient bunch, and I am pretty pleased with how the season has gone,” McDonald said. “We stubbed our toe against Langston Hughes, but we put it behind us and we have gotten better. We have put ourself in position to play a home playoff game, so we know what is at stake. That is all you can ask for. Just to have a chance.”
His players must be listening,
“Last year we didn’t like the results, so we worked a little harder. We just need to come out and do what we need to do to win the football game,” said Newnan’s leading tackler Tonaris Portress.
Matthews can’t wait for kickoff Friday night to get his last game with East Coweta started.
“The only thing going through my mind is getting the win,” Matthews said. “We know it’s the county rivalry and everybody is going to be there, so we just need to win.”
Newnan and East Coweta have played ever year since 1992 with the Indians holding a 11-9 record.
“If you are not excited about playing your crosstown rivals, I don’t know why you play,” McDonald said.
The Cougars and Indians will open the playoffs against either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed from Region 2-AAAAAA. Currently Newton (4-5, 4-1) has a one game lead on Alcovy (4-5, 3-2) for second place.