By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
This Friday night at Garland Shoemake might be a lot like Sunday morning, depending on where you spend it.
Much like Christmas and Easter, the annual East Coweta-Newnan football game is at least the one time where everybody seems to finds their way to the stadium whether it’s been on a weekly basis or for the first time in … ahem … a while.
Those who have found a seat all season certainly have an idea of what to expect between a pair of lineups that are tied at 3-1 in Region 2-7A, heading into the 27th game between county schools.
The last four have alternated winners for home teams in the series. And while that trend would favor East Coweta in a game set for Garland Shoemake Stadium on Friday, last year’s see-saw affair that ended in a 30-28 victory by Newnan seemed to include every twist and turn that a high school football game could provide.
“I’ve only been involved in this game one time,” Indians head coach John Small said. “It’s a unique deal.”
Last year’s game had four lead changes before halftime and ended with Newnan having to stop an East Coweta drive toward a potential game-winning field goal.
It was the third single-digit margin of victory by a team over the four-year span and the fifth overall this decade.
It didn’t take long for both Small and Newnan head coach Chip Walker to be indoctrinated with the spirit of the rivalry, which over the past four seasons has added the mystique of claiming the Brantley-Knott Water Jug for the winner.
“This is a rivalry in every sport,” Walker said. “That is one thing I’ve noticed. There may be rivalries that exist in certain sports at schools. But this one is every sport. When I took a job, I noticed it right away with all our spring sports. I went last year and we wrestled them in our old gym and it was an intense rivalry. That’s what makes it a lot of fun. And obviously, Friday night is a big important night in terms in both of the communities getting together.”
It’s a change for both coaches, who as head coaches at previous schools had important games against opponents in their counties, but maybe not with quite the same fanfare involved.
At South Gwinnett, ‘you had 10 of them. Everything’s a battle of something,” said Small of a county dominated by 16 schools in Class 7A. “You see a lot of people come of the woodwork for this one.”
This year’s matchup was also voted as Fox5Atlanta’s Game of the Week and will also be spotlighted for the second consecutive season by The Great American Rivalry Series after attending awarding Newnan with a trophy following its 2017 win that both clinched a playoff berth and eliminated East Coweta from playoff contention for the first time in 21 years.
Forecasts are calling for heavy rain all day today and into Friday morning, which in past seasons might have called for sloppy conditions. Brand new turf fields at all three county high schools, however, are equipped with drainage systems that shouldn’t make Mother Nature as much of a factor as the players on the field.
Both coaches are expecting a battle that among statistics and common opponents has seen the Indians and Cougars have success in similar areas.
Each has defeated Wheeler, Campbell and Pebblebrook in region play in between a loss to 2-7A repeat champion Westlake to have a chance at home field for at least the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs next week.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that neither one of us will be able to not play good and win,” Walker said. “They may have a different opinion. But I feel both of us will have to play a good football game to win.”