Indians senior QB ready to lead team into battle for 'bragging rights'
by Chris Goltermann
Indians quarterback Bryce Gemmel can probably think of two ways how this year's East Coweta-Newnan football game would potentially outrank last year's first start against the rival Cougars.
The first is getting a chance to have his younger brother Jeremiah, the Indians' hulking freshman defensive end, with him along the sidelines.
The other involves the Drake Stadium scoreboard on Friday night.
'We actually talked about that (Tuesday) night,' said Bryce, who was on the losing end of last year's 21-7 game against Newnan. 'He said he's ready.'
East Coweta head coach Clint Wade hopes so, especially after experiencing the most disappointing Friday of the year. A 21-7 loss at home to Douglas County (3-6, 1-3) both kept the Tigers alive - but barely - in their hopes of reaching the state playoffs out of Region 3-AAAAAA while denying the Indians (4-5, 2-2) a chance to clinch the program's 17th consecutive trip to the postseason.
'I guess disappointing is the best word for it. I don't know what it was. We just lacked that intensity. But give credit to them as well,' Wade said of the Douglas County loss. 'But here it is. There are no secrets this week. [Newnan head coach] Mike [McDonald] and his staff does a great job over there. We just have to go out and play wide open.'
While the Cougars can finish no lower than third with a loss on Friday, East Coweta will be playing to continue its 2013 season, though there's still a chance the Indians can survive a loss and advance.
Losses by East Coweta and Westlake (against region champion Hughes) along with a victory by Douglas County over winless Tri-Cities would set up a three-way tie for the final two playoff berths, setting up a third tiebreaker of points allowed in region play. A 58-0 loss to Hughes puts Douglas County (118) well behind both Westlake (45) and the Indians (89) heading into this week.
But Gemmel and his teammates would rather it not come down to that following Friday night's game.
In addition to a playoff berth, East Coweta players got their first look at the Brantley-Knott - or at least referred to on ECHS turf, the Knott-Brantley - Water Cooler trophy which will be awarded to this year's winning team. It included a vivid introduction by school athletic director Ken Kesselring, who created an image of longtime East Coweta trainer Lloyd Knott bringing the trophy back from 'World War II' only to have it go lost and be eventually recovered again somewhere across enemy lines near Newnan High.
As inventive as the story was in hopes to add even more drama, Gemmel had his own simple reasoning why the rivalry ranks so high inside the county.
'I guess it's the bragging rights,' he said.
The Indians starting quarterback, who was also taking snaps in East Coweta's starting defensive backfield during practice on Wednesday, knows the surroundings this week at Newnan's Drake Stadium expect to be much the same as last year's packed house among familiar confines of Garland Shoemake Stadium.
'It's about like homecoming. Just a lot of people,' he said. 'Really, only the first four plays are like that. After that, then you're just playing football. If you don't make any major mistakes that first series, it's natural.'
Both Gemmel and Newnan's starting quarterback, junior Bailey Bryant, have each experienced their shares of ups and downs in their second years as starters with nearly identical numbers. In previous weeks, the pair often have wished each other good luck online through Twitter in an amiable manner.
'I know him from baseball,' Gemmel said. 'We'll tweet stuff to each other. We hang out with a lot of the same people.'
Bryant is 112 of 119 passing for 1,303 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions, but has gone three games without passing for a score. Gemmel is 106 of 211 for 1,348 yards with 10 touchdowns and at least nine interceptions, including one to end last week's loss.
'It's been tough, but I like having that pressure and having the ball in my hand,' said Gemmel, adding of a season that's seen the Indians lose three, win three and then enter Friday off back-to-back region losses, 'It's just been the intensity level for some games, it's been up and down.'
The senior, however, has been part of a one-two punch among the most effective playmakers for East Coweta on offense. Gemmel's 531 yards rushing leads the team a year after losing 1,000-yard rusher Dee Godfrey, a freshman at Georgia Southern, to graduation.
He also spent Wednesday throwing passes to fellow senior Markell Boston while the receiver was in street clothes despite being held out of most drills after suffering a leg injury on Monday.
But after experiencing all 21 previous games between East Coweta and Newnan - with the Indians holding a slim 11-10 edge in the series - Wade expects his players to throw everything they have into Friday night's game.
'I've been a part of all 21 of them,' he said. 'It's loud, it's intense and that's the way it ought to be.'