Indians, Cougars can take lessons into first round of playoffs
by Chris Goltermann
If there was a lesson to be learned from Friday night's showdown between East Coweta and Newnan - for both county rivals- heading into this week's Class AAAAAA state playoffs, it was the following: When opportunity comes knocking, answer the door … and quickly.
A 24-7 victory by the Indians was as much an example of East Coweta's ability to capitalize and Newnan's difficulties to convert more than once during four trips inside its opponent's 40-yard line.
Instead, the Indians used two scoring plays of over 50 yards and converted two Cougar turnovers into 10 more points in the second half to help claim home-field advantage for Friday's first-round game against Lowndes (7-3), which had more than a few fans in maroon and grey watching the Coweta rivals battle it out for second place in Region 3-AAAAAA at Drake Stadium.
The Vikings had last week off following a 28-7 loss to eventual 1-AAAAAA champion Camden County, snapping a four-game win streak in region play. Lowndes' two other losses came in a 15-14 upset by Newton and a 37-7 defeat at Colquitt County.
Colquitt (8-2) will now host Newnan (6-4) this week after finishing behind Camden in the standings following Friday's 22-15 loss to the Wildcats in Kingsland.
The Packers turned the ball over four times, including a pair that were converted into touchdowns in the first half by Camden in its victory.
Last week's showdown at Drake Stadium between the Indians (5-5) and Cougars was as much an example of how both opportunity and execution play major roles in deciding wins and losses.
During a post-practice talk on Wednesday following a disappointing performance in a lost to Douglas County, East Coweta head coach Clint Wade made a point of emphasizing how each play in an important rivalry game could be the difference maker.
'They had a run of eight straight victories and a lot of them were close games, a lot of drama and a lot of intensity. In those games, we had opportunities in all but one. There's a lot of those 'if's that go around. When there's too many 'if's' we lose,' he said. 'There's going to be adversity. We're not going to be successful in every play. But you have to stay patient and trust what we're doing.'
Despite just three first downs in the opening two quarters, East Coweta carried a 7-0 lead into halftime by gaining 67 of its 134 yards on the first two plays of the game, the latter on a 56-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Bryce Gemmel.
Newn a n , me a nwhi le , coughed up two key opportunities inside Indians territory in each of the opening two quarters. Trailing early in the first period, the Cougars looked poised to get on the scoreboard after recovering a fumble at the East Coweta 22-yard line, only to cough the ball back up to the Indians on their next play.
East Coweta's defense then withstood a 16-play drive by Newnan that took the ball inside its own 30-yard line. Freshman Jeremiah Gemmel's sack for an eight-yard loss at the Indians 26 set up three consecutive pass attempts that missed the mark, including one on third down that receiver Chrishawn Dix nearly came up with on a diving attempt.
After halftime, the Indians continued to capitalize and make stops when needed, adding 10 points stemming from miscues on Newnan's opening and closing drives of the second half.
Despite managing to convert on a seven-play drive for their only score, the Cougars had its next possession stall inside the East Coweta 30 while trailing 10-7 with 3:55 to play. Two quick snaps picked up 35 yards for Newnan to put the team just outside field-goal range. But the drive ended without gaining another on its final three plays that produced no yards along with a costly delay of game penalty facing 4th-and-10.
'We had our opportunities,' Newnan head coach Mike McDonald said. 'I thought we came out in the second half and did some good things and moved the ball. We just never could get that one we needed.'
TRINITY HEADED FOR REMATCH WITH WESTFIELD: For the second consecutive year, Trinity Christian will travel to Perry to open the GISA Class AAA state playoffs against Westfield in the first round.
Last season, the Hornets held on for a 10-7 victory after finishing as the No. 2 seed from Region 1-AAA.
This year, Westfield captured a 1-AAA championship under head coach Ronnie Jones after finishing 9-1 during the regular season. The team's only loss came against 2-AAA runner-up Tattnall Square to open the season, falling 21-0.
Since then, the Hornets have rattled off nine consecutive wins including victories over both Mount de Sales (35-14) and Stratford (21-20), each of which finished ahead of Trinity in the 2-AAA standings.
The Lions advanced to the playoffs following Friday's 12-0 win over The Heritage School, their first against their crosscounty football rivals in three tries. The victory also gave Trinity its second consecutive six-win season after finishing 6-5 in 2012.
Westfield has reached the second-round of the GISA playoffs in each of its last four seasons with 58 players on this year's roster. The Hornets graduated last year's starting quarterback, Evan Williams.
HERITAGE CHRISTIAN CLOSES SEASON WITH PAIR OF TOUGH LOSSES: The Heritage Christian Crusaders were unable to extend its season on Nov. 1 in the first round of the Independent Christian Schools of Georgia and Alabama 8-man playoffs, but nearly upset undefeated Harvester in a 36-30 loss on the heels of a one-point defeat to rival Ballard (Ala.) Christian.
The Crusaders entered the final game of the regular season with an 1-8 record in a year where the program was decimated by injuries.
Heritage matched Harvester score for score through three quarters, taking a 30-24 lead with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
But the Hawks put together a drive for a go-ahead score early in the final period and held on to advance to Friday's semifinal round.
Harvester defeated Lafayette Christian 29-24 to reach this week's championship game against Holy Ground of Roopville, which held off CrossPointe Academy 64-50 in a shootout.