Heartache and Heartbreak
Indians can't overcome 28-point 1st quarter deficit
by Chris Goltermann
The night belonged to Madeline McTier. But Sandy Creek took ownership of Friday's football game at Garland Shoemake Stadium.
On arguably the most emotional fall night of East Coweta high school football at Garland Shoemake Stadium since September 2001, the Patriots played spoiler in a 54-35 victory over the Indians, who much like McTier's losing battle against brain cancer, fought to the finish against an opponent that simply was too powerful to overcome.
East Coweta seemed still in a haze to begin the game, quickly falling behind 28-0 following a moving pregame ceremony to honor McTier, a junior cheerleader who passed away on Tuesday.
It included a heartfelt speech voiced by longtime press box announcer Larry Robertson, a moment of silence and a balloon release as the Indians tore through a banner with her name on it. Centered among the 20 megaphones on the Shoemake Stadium track was McTier's, the cone acting as a vase for a bouquet of pink roses, her favorite color and two balloons, one pink and one grey.
Pink signs also dotted the fences at both sidelines among a sea of grey shirts in the stands, representing brain cancer awareness on a 'Grey-Out' organized by students and administrators.
The Patriots (2-0-1), fresh off a 55-point outburst against Newnan last week, took advantage early against East Coweta (1-2) by scoring four times over a span of 5:21, with two touchdowns linked to Sandy Creek interceptions thrown by quarterback Bryce Gemmel.
'They're a tough team and we got a little blindsided at the start,' said Indians head coach Clint Wade. 'But I'm proud of the way our kids fought back in the second half. They played hard.'
Sandy Creek's Eric Swinney scored his first team's first two touchdowns on a night where he reached the end zone four times. The Patriots put together 463 yards of offense, with the backfield combination of juniors Swinney and Delvin Weems combining for 208 of the total led by Weems' 121 yards rushing.
Sandy Creek's first four scoring drives took a combined seven offensive snaps on a Swinney 2-yard run, 57 and 38-yard strikes from quarterback Cole Garvin and a 40-yard interception return for a score by Brian Miller after batting a pass by Gemmel for the Indian quarterback's second straight pick.
Trailing 34-14 at halftime and 41-14 after three quarters, however, East Coweta was down, but not out, eventually closing to within 13 points with 8:08 remaining following a pair of scores generated by the Indians senior quarterback and a heightened effort from his defensive teammates.
Gemmel finished 13 of 23 passing for 205 yards and three touchdowns, including a pair to E.J. Ransom in the second half.
Sandwiched in between a Sandy Creek punt, East Coweta put together two of its third fourth-quarter scores while rallying back. Gemmel led a six-play drive that included a 29-yard strike to Ransom and a 24-yard scramble that led to Malik Robinson's 15-yard touchdown run to pull within 41-21.
Then on East Coweta's first snap after the Patriot punt, Gemmel connected for the second of his three touchdown throws, finding Ransom alone behind the Patriot secondary for a 53-yard strike to pull even closer.
The two connected for a final time in the closing two minutes on a night where Ransom had four catches for 119 yards. In addition to two scores, he had one called back on a penalty during a drive that ultimately ended with Gemmel hitting Jacob Bergstrom in the back of the end zone to get East Coweta on the scoreboard with 8:59 left in the second quarter.
Bergstrom's catch capped a nine-play, 54-yard drive, the Indians' longest of the night.
Garvin was even more accurate, finishing 12 of 18 passing for 201 yards and three touchdowns, despite being in heavy pursuit of East Coweta defenders, who caught the Patriot senior twice on sacks by Nick Fraser and Tyler Poythress in the second half.
The Indians were the more dominant lineup among special teams, led by Markel Boston's 35-yard punt return that pulled East Coweta back to within a 28-14 deficit with 5:54 left in the first half. The senior shook off a tackler at his leg and broke away from a mass of jerseys around the 20 en route to the end zone after the Patriots had been backed up by three consecutive offensive penalties. Boston also had two long kickoff returns to set up field position well outside the East Coweta 35.
Kicker Cole Antley, while perfect on all f ive PAT attempts, had four touchbacks on kickoffs.
Patriots 54, Indians 35
Sandy Creek 286 7 13 - 54 East Coweta 0 14 0 21 - 35 1st Quarter SC - Eric Swinney 2 run (Matthew Davenport kick), 6:22 SC - Swinney 57 pass from Cole Garvin (Davenport kick), 4:10 SC - Brian Miller 40 yard interception return (Davenport kick), 3:06 SC - Justin Sumpter 38 pass from Garvin (Davenport kick), 1:01 2nd Quarter EC - Jacob Bergstrom 13 pass from Bryce Gemmel, (Cole Antley kick) 8:59 EC - Markel Boston 35 yard punt return (Cole Antley kick), 5:54 SC - Swinney 10 run (Kick failed), 1:16 3rd Quarter SC – Swinney 5 run (Davenport kick), :51 Fourth Quarter EC – Malik Robinson 15 run (Antley kick), 9:33 EC – E.J. Ransom 53 pass from Gemmel (Antley kick), 8:08 SC – Sumpter 9 pass from Garvin (Davenport kick), 5:34 SC – Maceo Brown 31 run (kick failed), 2:42 EC – Ransom 20 pass from Gemmel (Antley kick), 1:18