Prep Football: Newnan stays confident, faces first-round foe Alcovy
By DOUG GORMAN
The Newnan Cougars had plenty to celebrate last Friday night as they walked off the field at Garland Shoemake Stadium with a 21-7 victory over the Indians.
With the win against its biggest rivals, Newnan closed out the regular season with an 8-2 overall record and a 4-1 mark in Region 3-AAAAAA play. More importantly, the Cougars guaranteed themselves home-field advantage to open the playoffs Friday night against Alcovy (4-6).
Through the first three practices this week, including Wednesday which ended close to dark, Newnan head coach Mike McDonald has preached the importance of getting past last week’s game and staying focused on the task at hand.
“That was a great victory, but we have to move on,” he told his team after Wednesday’s practice. “We are 0-0 now and everybody starts over.”
McDonald says his team knows it has to play with a sense of urgency.
“We just have to go back to work,” McDonald said. “Everybody is good when you are in the playoffs.”
Alcovy earned a spot in the postseason as the No. 3 seed out of Region 2-AAAAAA despite finishing the season with a losing record. The Tigers come to Drake Stadium still trying to shake off their 56-0 loss to Lovejoy last week that dropped their region record to 3-3. It was the most points the Tigers allowed all year.
The rest of their losses haven’t been nearly as lopsided losing the other five games by a combined 34 points.
Newnan enters the contest on a three-game winning streak and has outscored its last three opponents 66-20 during the stretch of victories.
Last week, both the offense and defense got into the act for Newnan. The Cougars forced four turnovers, including two interceptions from Ronnie Tennie and one from Tonaris Portress against the Indians.
“We are just working hard, and the kids are making plays to get us off the field whether it is turnovers are stopping teams on third down and forcing them to punt,” McDonald said.
Through 10 games, Newnan is only giving up 17 points per game with Portress zeroing in on 100 tackles.
With the Cougars’ three interceptions against the Indians, Newnan has picked off nine of their opponents passes this year.
Newnan’s swarming defense isn’t something lost on Tigers’ coach Kirk Hoffman.
“They do a good job of getting hats on the ball carrier,” Hoffman told the Newton Citizen. “What we are going to have to do is find a way to stay on the block and not turn over the football.”
Newnan will challenge the Tigers’ defense that is led by defensive end Joaquin Ross and linebacker Drew Kendall.
The Cougars come into the first-round of the playoffs averaging 27 points. In four of its victories this season, Newnan fell behind, including last week, when they spotted East Coweta a 7-0 lead before finding a way to win.
Newnan’s comeback effort included a 5-yard touchdown run from Quinton Dix and Bailey Bryant’s 54-yard pass to Traon Moss. J.K. Britt also added a 23-yard run.
The Cougars have been mixing up their offense all season with a combination of passing and running.
Sophomore quarterback Bailey Bryant has thrown for 1,440 yards and 13 touchdowns with four interceptions as he heads to his first playoff game as the Cougars’ starter.
Tray Matthews, who plays on both sides of the ball, has 29 catches for the Cougars Moss has hauled in 25 catches. Moss and Matthews each have six touchdowns.
Dix has a team leading 812 yards and seven touchdowns as he heads into Friday’s playoff opener.
Alcovy is back in the playoffs for the second year in a row. After spending the past few seasons in Class AAAA, the Tigers jumped up two classifications this year to Class AAAAAA.
The Cougars are home to open the playoffs this year after traveling to Valdosta a year ago and upsetting the Wildcats in the first round 17-7. Dacula knocked Newnan out of the playoffs the next week.
This will be Newnan’s seventh straight trip to the playoffs, and McDonald is confident the Cougars can get past the second round.
“We feel like we are playing our best football right now, we need to be” McDonald said. “We just need to keep doing what we are doing. I guess we will find out Friday night.”