By: Alex Sellen and Andy Callaway
Few communities across the country follow their local high school football team like Newnan does.
Even some of the most competitive schools in the state simply can’t match the enthusiasm of Cougar nation. This past fall marks a Cougar season that will not soon be forgotten.
Their play on the field proved this, as Newnan bounced back and returned to the playoff conversation. The Cougars posted a 9-3 overall record with an 8-2 regular season, securing a 2 seed in the state playoffs and providing plenty of memorable moments for fans and players to take into the off season.
The 2015 season might have begun with many questions ready to be answered; however, it also began with plenty of determination.
Coach Mike McDonald, NHS Head Football Coach, is in his sixth year at the helm and remarked that “a lot of different guys stepped up.” The determination of the players was seen day in, day out at practices leading up to the big plays in the final moments when it mattered most.
While in past years the Cougars had maintained a solid defense, what the team lacked most was an efficient offense. The offense proved to be explosive this past fall. “Our offense was amazing,” Darryel Hines, NHS senior and Cougar running back said. “Even in our loss at Westlake, we had over 400 yards of total offense,” he later added.
Another major strength of the team this year came with holding down the Drake. Newnan remained undefeated at home with a perfect 8-0 record. In a season where the schedule featured several more home games than away, the Cougars’ stand at the Drake was a defining factor of the season.
When it came down to what contributed the most to the team’s success, Darryel stated that “the defining characteristic of this team was focus. We had the mindset that we were ready to beat anyone we played against.”
While 2015 was a very successful season for NHS football, it certainly wasn’t smooth sailing for the team the entire season.
After big wins against Carrollton and Marietta, the Cougars traveled to 4A powerhouse Sandy Creek, taking the biggest loss and only shutout of the season.
“The loss to Sandy Creek really woke us up,” Darryel said.
Dalton Byrom, NHS senior and Cougar linebacker, went on to add that after the loss at Sandy Creek, “we were ready to get after it.”
Getting after it is exactly what the team did. Newnan followed the loss with a 6-1 run to finish the regular season. Newnan had its biggest wins over region rivals Douglas County and Campbell, as well as a close win in a highly contested game against East Coweta High School.
Coach McDonald commented on the team’s bounce back, “we were an experienced football team, and we handled it very businesslike. There was no panic.”
While the entire Newnan community remained supportive of the team, the student section was a big part of every home game and even the away games.
In response to the pure energy the students put into every game, all Darryel could say was “wow.”
Dalton added that “the student section always made it a good atmosphere to play in.”
Both Darryel and Dalton recalled the appreciation they felt when they arrived at the playoff game at Mill Creek and were welcomed by a loud and energetic student section.
The students were completely with this team, from the season’s beginning all the way to the very end.
There were many moments that stood out in the season. Quarterback Chancellor Johnson and cornerback KD Satterwhite had some standout performances on the field. Among all the season’s big plays, one moment stood out the most to both team members and fans alike. That moment came on the night of October 30th at the end of the 4th quarter, when Newnan defeated East Coweta in a 21-17 win at the Drake.
In recent years, the power struggle between the Cougars and Indians has been a contentious competition. Before 2015, Newnan had a two year losing streak facing their county counterpart. After losing close games in 2013 and 2014 to EC, Cougar nation was ready to break the streak.
The game was played on Cougar turf and proved to be a grueling but well-earned win for the Cougars. Both teams went back-and-forth until the Cougars scored late in the 4th quarter, sealing the victory for the home team.
When reflecting on the tremendous impact the game had on his team, Coach McDonald said the victory breathed a renewed sense of confidence back into the team’s spirit at the end of the season.
The win gave Newnan the momentum it needed to win the last regular season game against Langston Hughes to secure a home playoff game and eventually go on to the state quarterfinals. This had been Newnan’s first appearance at the quarterfinals since 2012.
After a season for the books, Coach McDonald is set on getting his team ready for 2016. He’s thankful for his seniors who got his program “back to playing Newnan football” and “making us a team that is expected to be in the playoffs.”
Now, this year’s seniors will leave it up to the next generation of Cougars to build on their legacy.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys coming up through the 9th grade and JV teams, and a lot of upcoming seniors that are eager to get back at it,” McDonald said. “In just a few weeks, the football team will be back in the weight room, and before too long, spring practice will be underway.”
McDonald stressed that his team needs a well-deserved break from the grind of the season, but there’s a push to get back to work. He is most excited that the push is already coming from the players on the team and then from the coaching staff.
Whether you’re a coach, player, fan or student, you certainly can’t miss the immense feeling of optimism surrounding the Cougar football program. If you listen to talk around the area, it quickly becomes apparent that no small town in the country is quite ready for the kickoff of fall 2016 like Newnan.