All season long, East Coweta stuck to the plan, even if it wasn’t producing as many results in the regular season standings.
But the Indians only had to get to the postseason in order to see them pay immediate dividends on Friday to begin the Class 7A state playoffs.
In a mudbath that was once Northcutt Stadium earlier this week in Marietta, East Coweta stayed the course, grinding out a 28-26 upset win over the host Blue Devils to advance to the second round of the postseason for the first time since 2012.
The win, coupled with Tift County’s resounding 42-7 effort over Region 6-7A champion Roswell, allows the Indians to host next week’s Sweet 16 matchup as a further reward for a hard-fought playoff victory that was East Coweta head coach John Small’s goal since day one.
The Indians endured a 3-7 regular season that included nine opponents that finished at or above .500. In a one-possession contest for most of four quarters, East Coweta came up with two fumble recoveries that kept them on top after jumping out to an early lead.
"You could tell the early grind of our season schedule paid off tonight. You could see the results,” said Small of a year that began with a 0-6 start. “Just a resilient bunch of kids. They never lost faith. I'm so happy for these kids. They came to play."
Gerald Green rushed for 282 yards and all four Indians touchdowns, starting with consecutive 65 and 70-yard scoring runs to help East Coweta jump out to 7-0 and 14-7 leads.
The Indians stopped a two-point conversion with 7:10 left to play while continuing to cling to a 21-19 advantage late when it seemed Marietta — still without injured star quarterback Harrison Bailey — was ready to march its way through the mud to a comeback.
Another 60-plus yard run by Green to paydirt was negated by a penalty, forcing an East Coweta punt inside the Blue Devils’ 25. But Marietta coughed up the football on the ensuing snap with just over four minutes left and senior linebacker Taylor McCawley came up with a key recovery to set up Green’s fourth score from 2-yards out.
Earlier in the second half, Trey Gray recovered another Blue Devil turnover that kept East Coweta in control of the lead.
“Our kids never flinched. They know the expectation doesn’t change in that environment. It was the muddiest I’ve ever seen,” Small said. “They fought their tails off. Our defense has played well the past two weeks.”
Ahead 28-19, Marietta used a long kickoff return to stay in the game in the final two minutes, eventually scoring with 1:47 to play.
East Coweta, however, recovered an onside kick attempt and proceeded to run out the clock to clinch the win.
The Indians presented athletic director Hap Hines and his family with the game ball after his father, recently retired Chief Justice Harris Hines, was killed in a car accident on a return trip home from watching his granddaughter’s choir performance in Newnan.
“Our kids wanted to do that before the game,” Small said. “They said at halftime, we have a game ball we have to go handle our business. So it was a special night for everybody.”