High School Football
Cougars claw back, give Westlake the boot in OT
by Chris Goltermann
Unable to score a touchdown on Friday at Drake Stadium and needing overtime against Westlake, Newnan did the next best thing.
It allowed its defense and special teams to come through in the clutch on Senior Night for a 9-6 comeback victory against the Lions in another key Region 3-AAAAAA game.
Newnan senior kicker Connor Cox made three of his four attempts, including the two most important field goals of the game, a 19-yarder to tie the score at 6-6 with just 16 seconds left in regulation and a game-winning, 25-yard kick straight through the uprights off a snap by fellow senior Walker Sandlin with the Cougars taking no chances on third down in overtime.
For Cox, it was a chance for redemption after watching a potential game-tying 37-yard attempt sail wide-right with under six minutes to play and his team trailing 6-3.
The All-County and All-Region soccer standout, however, made good on his last two tries to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
After watching final kick soar down the middle, Cox, who had just one field goal through seven previous games this year, raced toward midfield before being engulfed in a celebrating sea of navy jerseys.
The win was the Cougars’ sixth straight against Westlake in what has been a one-sided series. The Lions have only scored more than seven points one time against Newnan in its football history.
More importantly, the win pushed the Cougars ahead of both the Lions and rival East Coweta in the battle for second place in 3-AAAAAA at 6-3 and 3-1. Newnan can clinch home field for the first round of the state playoffs with a win over the Indians, who were upset by Douglas County at home 21-7.
After scoring a go-ahead touchdown off a 10-play, 75-yard drive to close the first half for a 6-3 advantage, Westlake continued to lead all the way up to Cox’s game-tying field goal, which almost didn’t come to fruition if not for a fourth-down pass interference call on Westlake that kept Newnan’s final drive alive inside the Lions’ 20-yard line.
“We knew it was going to be a tough one,” said Newnan head coach Mike McDonald, who won the overtime coin toss and elected to play defense first. “You know where you stand doing that if they score. If they don’t, I felt like our kicking game was going to benefit us there. Connor came in and hit a clutch field goal and then he hit the one in overtime.”
The Cougars pushed Westlake backwards to start the overtime over five plays without making a first down after Newnan accepted a penalty on a Lions only major gain. The final play saw senior defensive end Chris Porter race in off the right side for a sack of junior quarterback Julian Jones with the Lions choosing not to attempt a field goal.
Late in the first quarter, Westlake also turned the ball over on downs following its fumble return to the Newnan 25 and the Lions had their only extra-point attempt blocked on a low line-drive attempt.
On the Cougars’ overtime possession, junior J.K. Britt picked up seven yards on first down on the first of two quick carries to get the ball to the Westlake 8-yard line. That was enough for McDonald to call for his field-goal unit. After the Lions tried to ice Cox with a timeout, he connected.
It ended a wild night inside the division with many fans looking ahead to next week’s showdown between rivals East Coweta and Newnan.
Unlike East Coweta, which couldn’t mount a late comeback, the Cougars were given new life late in the fourth quarter still trailing 6-3 when an errant pass to Chrishawn Dix in double-coverage resulted in the 13th of 14 penalties committed by the Lions.
From the Westlake 20, Newnan needed eight more snaps before finally getting the ball to the goal line on a pass from quarterback Bailey Bryant to receiver Rendall Arnold, but forced to take its final timeout with 16 seconds to play.
That brought on Cox for what amounted to one of his 23 extra-points this season.
Neither team was able to gain much ground in the first half, with the Cougars outgaining Westlake 118-91 in total yards but with only Cox’s opening 30-yard field goal with 1:45 left in the first quarter to show for it.
All four of Newnan’s possessions in the first half lasted at least six plays, including an opening march inside the Westlake 11 that resulted in a Cougar fumble that was brought all the way back to their own 25-yard line by the Lions.
“The first half was frustrating because we’re almost there … we’re almost there … and we just did things to stop ourselves,” McDonald said. “They stopped us and you have to give them credit. They played great on defense. They wanted to hog that football in the second half and sit there with the lead.”
Cougars 9, Lions 6, OT
Westlake 0 6 0 0 0 — 6
Newnan 3 0 0 3 3 — 9
N – Connor Cox 30 field goal, 1:45
W — Tyrone Pope 1 run, :08
N — Cox 19 field goal, :16
N — Cox 25 field goal