High School Football
Midway through, no reasons to panic
by Chris Goltermann
The NFL season is a sprint. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons, whose Super Bowl dreams have quickly taken a hit just a quarter of the way into the 2013 season while sitting at 1-3 overall. But in high school, Coweta County lineups haven’t had any reason to panic halfway through the regular season.
Five games into the 2013 season, region schedules — which are the major factor in reaching the state playoffs — won’t begin until this Friday for two lineups, and the following week for three other schools that will be off until Oct. 11.
“As of right now, we’re 0-and-0,” said Trinity Christian head coach Chris Hanson, whose Lions are out to a 4-1 start following four straight victories heading into a bye week. “Our goal is to get better each week and play well when we hit region. We know what’s ahead of us.”
The schedules so far haven’t been easy, with East Coweta, Newnan, Northgate, Heritage School and Trinity Christian all facing at least one lineup that is still either undefeated or one with five wins.
Newnan and Northgate are off to 3-2 starts after picking up at least two straight wins. The Cougars are off following tight finishes against Troup (17-7) and Hardaway (29-27) and are off for the second time in three weeks while preparing for their Region 2-AAAAAA opener at home against Tri-Cities.
The Vikings, following back-to-back losses against opponents with a combined record of 8-2, have taken care of business since while taking three consecutive wins into Friday’s Region 4B-AAAAA opener at home against Whitewater (4-1). Northgate is coming off last Friday’s 17-14 win off James Skalski’s last-second field goal.
East Coweta (2-3), meanwhile, ended a three-game losing streak against opponents with a combined record of 12-1-1 in 19, 4, and 1-point decisions. A goal-line stand that ended with an interception from Michael Singleton clinched a 41-40 victory over Central-Phenix City, Ala., while giving the Indians momentum heading into next week’s first region game in 2-AAAAAA against a much-improved Westlake team on Friday, Oct. 11 for Homecoming.
A young Heritage team is off to a 2-3 start after a loss to Southland (4-2) which snapped a two-game winning streak. The Hawks open play in GISA Region 2-AAA on Friday against winless Mount de Sales, which is off to an 0-5 start while facing arguably the toughest non-region schedule in the classification. The Cavaliers’ first-five opponents currently have a combined record of 20-5.
Here’s a quick glance at what has gone right and wrong so far for each of the five county lineups.
EAST COWETA (2-3)
Points scored/Avg: 177/35.4
Points allowed/Avg.: 162/32.4
Combined record of opponents: 15-8-1
Best win: vs. Central-Ala. (41-40) on Sept. 27
Toughest loss: At Lovejoy (35-39) on Sept. 20
Next Game: Oct. 11 vs. Westlake (3-2)
The positives: In a year where the Indians lost their top running back and have struggled to find a replacement to lead their ground game due to an ankle injury to senior Weylin Orr, East Coweta leads the five county locals in scoring offense.
Quarterback Bryce Gemmel has a deeper corps of receivers led by a reinvigorated Markel Boston, who had two more touchdowns last week, including his second punt return for a score this year.
Boston’s six scores over five games have already doubled last year’s total.
Special teams have equally been solid. Kicker Cole Antley missed his two point-after attempts of the year, but is 20-22 on PATs and 2-for-2 on field goal attempts including a 35-yarder last week.
A much younger defense that returned less than a handful of starters has kept a bend, but don’t break attitude for much of the season. Freshman defensive end Jeremiah Gemmel, McKenzie Martin, Kevin Lashley and Singleton are all among newcomers playing a bigger role among starters.
The Negatives: East Coweta was again one yard away from heartbreak after taking a late lead in the closing minutes of a game. Already, the Indians have seen undefeated Archer and Lovejoy escape with wins. In a region that expects to be even tighter among its six schools, one game could make the difference whether for home field in the postseason or simply a state playoff berth. The Indians haven’t missed the postseason since 1996.
First-half MVP: Boston.
Points scored/Avg: 144/28.8
Points allowed/Abg. 161/32.2
Combined record of opponents: 11-10-1
Best win: At LaGrange (42-20) on Aug. 30
Toughest Loss: At Sandy Creek (28-55) on Sept. 6
Next Game: Oct. 11 vs. Tri-Cities (0-4-1).
The Positives: The number of new contributors in the lineup continues to grow on a weekly basis, the latest of which coming from sophomore running back Darryel Hines. Hines carried the ball 31 times for 175 yards and three touchdowns with a pair of teammates (J.K. Britt and Damion Key) hampered by injuries. The offense has shown equal amounts of versatility so far between quarterback Bailey Bryant’s 20-for-26, 287 yard passing effort with three touchdowns against LaGrange and rushing totals of 244 and 241 yards over the past two wins over Troup and Hardaway. Kelvin Khayyam’s carries and yards have also picked up during the span, gaining 13 attempts for 101 yards.
On defense, a secondary with three new starters has allowed just one passing touchdown over the last two weeks after being victimized for eight scores in Newnan’s first three games. Mark Harris and Chris Porter have solidified the defensive front while sophomore Emanuel Bridges has been strong while joining a group of linebackers led by Tonarius Portress, Josh Hill and Terence Geter.
The Negatives: Tackling on defense continues to be an issue, though the Cougars have faced at least three Division I prospects at running back this year, including Hardaway junior Justin Crawford, who scored on offense and special teams in last week’s Homecoming victory at Drake Stadium. Heading into last week, Newnan’s defense had missed at least a combined 14 tackles in each game and as many as 27 in a contest. Close games have limited the Cougars’ ability to work on building its depth, with 17 players recording tackles so far through five games. Injuries to Britt and 6-foot-8 receiver Immanuel Griggs the past two weeks have taken some of the punch out of Newnan’s offense heading into its final bye.
Points scored/Avg.: 120/24.0
Points allowed/Avg.: 77/15.4
Combined record of opponents: 11-13
Best win: At Union Grove (17-14) last Friday.
Toughest Loss: Vs. Heritage-Conyers (7-14) on Aug. 30
Next Game: Friday vs. Whitewater (4-1)
The Positives: The defensive effort has been both steady as well as stellar at times, allowing the Vikings’ wing-T offense to settle behind first-year starting quarterback Tyler Rowland, who was making just his fourth career start last Friday. Only undefeated Griffin (5-0) has managed to gain more than 240 total yards against Northgate, with the Vikings holding Union Grove to 74 yards rushing last week led by senior linebacker Ryan Fagerstrom, who now has 76 tackles through five games, tops in Coweta County. Sophomore linebacker James Skalski has equally emerged as a big-play defender while providing a boost on special teams (punting, kickoffs, field-goals). He’s connected on his last 12 PATs in addition to last week’s game-winning 23-yard field goal to beat Union Grove. Rowland has two solid passing efforts under his belt over back-to-back weeks.
The Negatives: While gaining steam, the offense will have to start taking some of the pressure off during the subregion schedule. Running backs have coughed the ball up at least five times this season, including one that ended Northgate’s first drive against Union Grove. Of the Vikings’ 120 points, 96 have come against winless Ola and North Clayton, who have a combined record of 0-9 heading into this week.
Co-MVPs: Skalski and Fagerstrom.
HERITAGE SCHOOL (2-3)
Points scored/Avg.: 114/22.8
Points allowed/Avg.: 121/24.2
Combined record of opponents: 15-15
Best win: Vs. Community Christian (29-14) on Sept. 13
Toughest Loss: At Dominion Christian (26-33) on Sept. 16
Next Game: Friday vs. Mount de Sales (0-5)
The Positives: With all the changes in the roster, the Hawks are a bad call or two away from still entering this week’s Region 2-AAA opener against Mount de Sales above .500. Outside of last week’s loss to Class AAA Southland (43-8) — where Heritage played without two of its four seniors — Heritage has battled in the second half of every game this year. Quarterback Brad Macke, who suffered a thigh bruise before halftime against Southland, has been solid after filling in nicely to begin last season, filling some of the big-play ability on both sides of the ball lost to the graduation of standout Candler Rich. The defense had forced seven fumbles and eight interceptions in its first four games (19.5 points allowed avg.) prior to the loss to Southland.
The negatives: Last week’s game against Southland was Heritage’s first this year against a Class AAA opponent and the Hawks will face AAA teams the rest of the way. The team has experienced its share of growing pains among a roster that is dominated by underclassmen, with Heritage using as many as 10 freshmen or sophomores on one side of the ball at times so far this year. Besides’ Rich’s scoring prowess, the program has also felt the loss of kicker/punter Ben Dudley on special teams, averaging 10 yards less on punts this season.
TRINITY CHRISTIAN (4-1)
Points scored/Avg.: 144/28.8
Points allowed/Avg: 84/16.8
Combined record of opponents: 14-14-1
Best win: Vs. Flint River (23-15) on Sept. 20
Toughest Loss: At John Milledge (12-33) on Aug. 30.
Next Game: Oct. 11 vs. Stratford Academy (2-2)
The Positives: The Lions ride a four-game win streak into this week’s bye, the program’s best stretch since beginning play in the GISA three seasons ago. The defense has been superb, especially among turnovers. Trinity has forced at least six in each of its last four games including seven in back-to-back wins over Flint River and Piedmont Academy. The Lions have 11 interceptions so far this year and haven’t allowed more than two touchdowns since the opening week of the season. Linebacker Diego Henriquez leasds the team with 44 tackles, including seven for losses in addition to four hurries, a fumble recovery and an interception.
While no slouch, the offense has equally picked up steam, especially from the steady play of receiver Christian Downs. The bye week gives Trinity 13 days to prepare for Stratford Academy, which has lost two games to defending state champion Deerfield-Windsor and Westfield by a combined eight points. The schedule remains in Trinity’s favor with three more home games and only one road trip outside the county for the rest of the regular season.
The Negatives: The schedule has yet to include a Class AAA opponent and the Region 2-AAA opener could be an eye-opener. In at least the past two games, Trinity’s offense hasn’t scored in the first quarter and the Lions can’t afford slow starts during a three-game stretch that includes visits from Stratford and Tattnall Square (4-1) before a trip to Mount de Sales in Macon.