High School Football
Cougars look to rebound in trip to Douglas County
by Chris Goltermann
You can't speed up growing pains in high school football. Hence the plural 'pains.' So don't expect Newnan's influx of six sophomore starters on offense to explode for 50-points every Friday night - not that the Cougars don't have the potential to immediately right themselves following a disappointing 30-3 loss last week to defending region champion Langston Hughes.
A trip to Douglas County (2-5, 0-2 in 3-AAAAAA) provides a chance for both the Tigers and Newnan to put goals of reaching the state playoffs back on course.
While it may be now or never for a Douglas County team that is struggling defensively during a five-game losing streak where it has allowed an average of 40.5 points each week, it may be the perfect time for the Cougars (4-3, 1-1) to work on putting points back on the scoreboard after being held to 17 combined points in its first two region outings.
'We hung in there [last week],' said Newnan head coach Mike McDonald of a loss where the Cougars gave up 10 points over the last three quarters of play. 'It's not like we quit fighting.'
But a slow start against a physically-gifted defense from Langston Hughes didn't help Newnan last week in a game that quickly spiraled out of control with a fumble on the Cougars' second snap. The Panthers jumped ahead with a score just over two minutes into the game en route to a 20-0 lead after one quarter. 'They dominated us up front with their defensive line,' McDonald said of a Hughes defense that returned eight starters from last year's 10-2 lineup. 'They just physically whipped us. When that happens, you have a hard time running and a hard time throwing.'
The Cougars have continued to push toward improving on an offense that has struggled a bit since losing its No. 1 target, junior running back J.K. Britt to a pair of ankle injuries in early September. Britt, who was also the team's top kick/punt returner, is back on the field, but has only played defense since his return.
'It's been tough without him,' McDonald said.
Between Britt and the loss of 6-foot-8 receiver Immanuel Griggs on offense the past three-plus weeks, junior quarterback Bailey Bryant's production has dropped to include just a pair of touchdowns and five interceptions, one shy of his first year as a starter in 2012.
The 6-foot-5 standout southpaw has been victimized by both drops and tipped passes, at least three of which have found their way into defenders arms the past two weeks.
Add that to an offensive line that lost starting center David Quesinberry and now includes three sophomores. The group enters its third game together with hopes of creating consistency.
Along with two underclassmen at running back - sophomore Darreyl Hines, who was held to 20 yards rushing on 14 carries following back-to-back 100-yard games and junior Kelvin Khayyam (35 yards, two attempts), Bryant quickly finds himself as one of the veterans.
'It hasn't been easy for him. He was the young guy out there last year and now he's one of the older ones. He took a couple of tough shots last week against [Hughes],' McDonald said of Bryant. 'The offensive line was just starting to gel when we lost [Quesinberry]. Another sophomore has had to step in there. We've tried to get into different sets and take advantage of the guys we do have.'
Bryant continued to take a vocal lead in practice on Tuesday on top of threading passes - short, medium and long into coverage to targets with tight spirals as he did through a 1,806-yard season a year ago.
Despite giving up a 77-yard touchdown run early, Newnan's defense settled in against Hughes while getting big contributions from Tonarius Portress (10 tackles) and Jervonte Gates (11), both of whom finished with three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Defensive linemen Mark Harris and Chris Porter combined for 11 tackles, seven by Porter, with Harris adding a fumble recovery.
The unit will face a Tigers offense led by first-year starting quarterback Jared Askew (5-8, 160), who replaces 6-5 All-Region standout Ellis Richardson, who graduated.
Returning up front is senior left-tackle Quinzavious Sands (6-1, 265) to lead the offensive line.
Askew has also received a boost from the return of running back Juanya Smith (5-7, 180) from a season-ending injury a year ago. Smith had a 60-yard run to go with a touchdown last week in a 25-15 loss to Westlake.
The previous Friday, Douglas County went through a second- quarter meltdown against Hughes in a 58-0 loss.
'That game turned on them as well,' McDonald said of Douglas County. 'They've got a really good football team. The quarterback can run, even though he's a shorter kid. But he's really impressive. They've got some good size as well.'