High School Football
Rested Indians hope to build on emotional win
by Chris Goltermann
Michael Singleton’s last-second interception just in front of his own goal-line two weeks ago to clinch a victory over Central-Phenix City still won’t factor into the win column of this year’s Region 3-AAAAAA standings.
But from the looks of East Coweta’s football practices since that moment, the Indians’ emotions may still be at an all-time high heading into Friday’s region opener at home against a much-improved Westlake team that already has three wins after last year’s 0-10 season.
In the end, how East Coweta competed over a four-game non-region stretch prior to last week’s bye, could be as much a difference maker in the program’s hopes of extending a streak of 16 consecutive state-playoff appearances following five consecutive 3-AAAAAA matchups to close the season.
“It’s an attitude about playing the game, about playing to win,” said Indians head coach Clint Wade about the mindset during a 2-3 start that included consecutive games against Archer, Sandy Creek, Lovejoy and Central prior to a bye week.
“We’ve just got to keep on truckin. This region looks like it’s going to extremely tight. I still think Langston Hughes is probably the favorite, but it’s going to be interesting how it all plays out.”
A year ago, East Coweta entered its pre-region break on a four-game slide following losses by a combined 69-point margin before righting itself against Westlake.
Over the same stretch this fall, the Indians have made a 39-point improvement, dropping two four-point losses where they had fourth-quarter leads and outscoring Sandy Creek in the second half of the other defeat before avenging its previous loss to Central in a back-and-forth game.
“I was just real happy for our kids because they’ve put the effort in,” said Wade, whose team still had to take a snap from its own 1 to clinch the win after surviving an outstanding performance by Central’s Traveon Samuel. “In all my years I’d never seen one guy change a game like their No. 1 [Traveon Samuel] did. that guy was unbelievable. We had a net on him and he still got away. I just wanted to jump out there and grab him. He’s just a junior.”
Samuel scored twice in the 41-40 shootout at Garland Shoemake Stadium, but a new-look East Coweta defense continued a bend-but-don’t break effort against opposing rushers. The Indians have allowed just one rushing score over 30 yards, coming late in the Sandy Creek loss. Of 19 touchdowns scored against the defense, 11 have come against a young secondary that’s beginning to find its feet.
Wade talked to a reporter on Tuesday while overseeing one-on-one tackling drills, with first-year defensive coordinator Armand Tinker in the thick of things.
“We do this every day in practice,” Wade said of the defense. “We’ve got them believing in what they’re doing and they’re busting their tails to do it. We’re doing it in a way that it’s fun and the kids enjoy it. Our offense is productive enough to where we can maintain and stay alive.”
The Indians have allowed 34 more points over the first five games than in 2012, but they’ve also been able to improve their offensive output despite graduating team leaders Dee Godfrey at running back and Zach Harness at tackle. Led by second-year starter Bryce Gemmel at quarterback, the unit has scored 177 points, a whopping 91 better than last year’s 1-4 start.
They’ve done it through injuries, including one to senior running back Weylin Orr, who has been hampered by a bad ankle. In his place, senior Malik Robinson, who has played both fullback and halfback, scored three times against Central after halftime including the eventual-game winner with 1:24 to play.
Gemmel connected on touchdown throws to Robinson and Markel Boston and added a 14-yard scoring run to open the fourth quarter as the teams traded touchdowns five times to the finish.
“Malik Robinson, I am so proud of him. He’s always smiling, never says a word, but there’s number 21 always doing some good things,” Wade said. “Bryce with his decision making has done a good job and Markel [Boston] has made some unbelievable plays.”
Westlake, however, may continue a trend of tough opponents after making considerable strides early in the year under Bryan Love, the program’s third head coach in as many seasons.
The Lions are equally rested following back-to-back wins over Banneker (26-6) and Bainbridge (36-0) having been off since Sept. 20.
“They’re a much more disciplined football team, and that’s scary. They’re athletic and they’ve always been that way,” Wade said.
Both losses this season have come against undefeated and ranked opponents, falling to 6-0 Creekside (35-20), who hosts Northgate this week, and 5-0 Hillgrove (26-6). The Lions are averaging 21.2 points per game and allowing just 15.4 during the first half of the season.
Love, who welcomed over 100 players last spring, has used multiple quarterbacks including Demetrius Beverly and junior Julian Jones (6-4, 205), with Jones entering in most passing situations. Eight starters returned to an offense under new coordinator Jared Zito, a former head coach at Dacula. Running back Joshua Poole. a track standout, returns among skill players.
“They’re still multiple and do some two-back stuff. They’ve got good receivers, and they want to run the ball more, but who doesn’t? They’re probably about 50-50 [run/pass]. They like that one-back, zone read concept trying to get people out on the edge with their speed. You’ve got to prepare for it all and you’ve got to plug those gaps.”
Another seven starters returned this season on defense for Westlake led by linebacker Tyrone Pope (6-2, 207), a First Team All-Region selection last year.
Coach Love has got those players believing in themselves. It’s going to be a challenge,” Wade said. “They’ve got a plan. And that’ll get your attention too.”