High School Football
Cougars able to close out slim win over Tri-Cities
by Chris Goltermann
The only thing pretty about Newnan's 14-9 victory over Tri-Cities on Friday at Drake Stadium was how it looked atop the Region 3-AAAAAA football standings.
Next week, though, is where the Cougars will need to buff themselves to a perfect shine.
Despite committing eight penalties and a costly turnover that led to their opponent's only score, Newnan trailed both those categories by a wide margin to a Bulldog lineup that led the game in miscues.
The win allows the Cougars to take a 1-0 region record into next Friday's showdown against defending 3-AAAAAA champion Langston Hughes in Fairburn. The Panthers were the only region team that had an easy night, dominating Douglas County 58-0 on the road.
On the other side of town from Drake Stadium, East Coweta squeaked out a 14-7 win over Westlake in a similar experience to Newnan's four quarters of football on Friday.
The Cougars, meanwhile, were able to improve to 4-2 overall with their third win by 10 points or less this year by coming through again when needed.
A pair of fourth-down passes from Bailey Bryant to running back Darryel Hines - one of six sophomore starters on this week's Cougar offense - keyed a pair of touchdown drives in the second and fourth quarter.
Newnan equally took advantage of Tri-Cities' mistakes, which included 17 penalties and a pair of turnovers, while taking a 7-3 lead for good just before halftime.
Hines got the Cougars on the scoreboard by converting on third-and-goal from the Tri-Cities 1 to cap off a nine play, 61-yard drive that nearly stalled at the Tri-Cities 35. But an 18-yard, fourth-down throw from Bryant to Hines kept it alive and the southpaw floated a ball to receiver Chrishawn Dix for a nifty over-the-shoulder grab two plays later to get it to the goal line.
Yet the Bulldogs, who opened the scoring on Alex Hernandez's 27-yard field goal with 6:16 left in the second quarter, hung on until the end just when Newnan looked ready to run out the final six minutes of the game.
Tri-Cities needed just three plays in the fourth quarter to convert a Cougar interception with 5:16 remaining in the game to pull within 14-9 following a botched extra-point snap.
Hines, however, was able to cap off his second consecutive 100-yard rushing effort while helping run out the clock on a 52-yard march into Tri-Cities territory on nine consecutive carries, most of them running behind junior guard Christian Shellabarger.
Newnan then clinched the win when the Bulldogs were called for illegal participation on penalty number 17 as the Cougars faced fourth-and-4 with just over a minute to go.
By halftime, Tri-Cities had committed a dozen infractions for 89 yards, giving them a net offense of 13 yards for the first two quarters.
'I thought our defense stepped up when they had to,' said head coach Mike McDonald of a unit that played without team leader J.K. Britt in the secondary. 'We caused some turnovers, which was big, and then we converted. We got out of here with a win, and 1-0 in the region is where you want to be.'
Newnan junior Frankie Williams solidified a young secondary by batting down at least four passes by Tri-Cities quarterback Karim Wallace, who was most effective with his legs on Friday. Senior linebacker Tonarius Portress knocked another pass attempt out of the air and added one of Newnan's fumble recoveries along with senior Tristian Bridges to help out a much younger offensive group on Friday that most recently lost starting center David Quesinberry for the season.
Tristan Gonzalez started at center among three sophomores on the Newnan offensive line along with Jermiah Russell and Brian Harris with tackle Anfenney Turner the lone senior. Gonzalez and Bryant only had one bad snap exchange in their first game together.
The Cougars' offense continued to get a boost, though, from Hines, who added his fourth and fifth touchdowns over a two-game span, giving his team a lead for good in the closing seconds of the first half on a one-yard run before padding a 7-3 advantage with a five-yard pass reception from Bryant with nine minutes to play.
Despite throwing a costly fourth-quarter interception with Newnan going for the Bulldogs' jugular, Bryant managed to hang in the pocket long enough to connect with Hines twice on an 11-play, 80-yard drive while finishing 14 of 27 passing for 150 yards and a touchdown.
Out of field goal range facing fourth and three from the TriCities 30, Hines made a catch and eluded a Bulldog defender on a 23-yard gain. One snap later, Bryant rolled to his left and found the sophomore running back at the goal line to put the Cougars ahead 14-3.