COVINGTON, Ga. — On most fall Friday nights, the lone high school football stadium in Newton County, Sharp Stadium, is packed out with fans of our three Georgia High School Association schools, who are supporting their teams win or lose.
As the season progresses, most fans’ minds fill with questions about the future of each team — whether those questions are about key players moving on to the next level, or moving up from the ranks of the junior varsity.
But to really get an understanding of the future of each program’s teams, fans must peek inside the action of middle school football, whose games usually occupy the Wednesday evening time slot.
The situation was different this past Friday, however, for both Cousins and Veterans Memorial Middle Schools, who along with the fans, got their own glimpse of the future when they took the field at Sharp under the lights typically set aside for varsity action. The Cousins Cardinals shined bright, defeating the Veterans Memorial 26-0 to extend their undefeated streak.
“I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous at first,” said Cousins head coach Patrick Jones. “You wonder about the middle school kids and if a stage like this would be too big for them. But I’ve got to give it to our kids and the coaching staff. I truly believe I have the best middle school coaching staff in the county.”
In a battle of undefeated teams — both teams entered the game with 4-0 records — the game couldn’t have started better for the Generals’ offense against a stingy Cousins defense. Starting at their 10-yard line, Veterans’ standout running back, Willie Sheppard, exploded to the edge for 20 yards.
It would be one of only a handful of big gains that Veterans could muster against a Cousins defensive squad that has not allowed a single touchdown all season.
“We have only allowed a score on a kickoff return at the beginning of the season,” said a proud Jones. “We really pride ourselves on defense. Defense wins championships, but we just got to keep pushing.”
On the Cardinals’ first offensive drive, running back Dallas Johnson took a reverse 40 yards to the end zone to put the Cardinals up 6-0 early in the game.
As the Cardinals regained possession to start the second quarter, Ramon Hernandez streaked down the sidelines for 30 yards and another Cardinals score.
Johnson and Hernandez’s performances on both sides of the ball were praised by Jones.
“The game was mostly a team effort, but Ramon ran very hard,” Jones said. “Dallas Johnson had a big game as well.”
For Hernandez, he stated that it felt good to be playing under the lights, and that he looks forward to doing so in high school as well. Despite his dominant performance, he also made sure to note that the game is a team effort.
“We have a good team,” he said. “Sometimes we may mess up, but we get it together and try harder. It’s not just me who’s successful, it’s the team who helps too, and they provide on both sides of the ball.”
Offense, defense, and even special teams came up big tonight for the Cardinals.
On the ensuing kickoff, Cousins recovered their own kick as if the Veterans return team forgot that the ball was live. The Cardinals would capitalize on this mistake when quarterback Jevarra Martin snuck the ball in from a yard out to give Cousins a 20-0 lead midway through the second.
This mistake was one of a few that kept Veterans out of the game, according to head coach Dante English.
“It was mental stuff that hurt us,” English said, “We have to be in the right place at the right time. If we don’t line up right, they will beat you in space.”
Beating Veterans in space and at the line of scrimmage was a big factor in slowing down the General’s offense as the Cardinals seemed to have an answer in stopping every Generals offensive play.
Before the half, Cousins would take advantage of Veterans defense that saw the field too often in the first half as Martin would deliver a perfectly placed ball to Hernandez who outran every defender to the end zone to put the Cardinals out front 26-0 at halftime.
With both teams trading a few turnovers and stalled drives throughout the second half, keeping Cousins from scoring again was one of a few things that English noted were positive takeaways from the game.
“We tried to keep fighting,” he said. “The second half was a good half. The guys got back on track.”
As the game seemed out of reach for the Generals, a new goal emerged on the final drive for both teams.
With the ball in their possession, the Generals were trying to accomplish what nobody else in the NewRock league could: Score an offensive touchdown on the Cardinals defense. For the Cardinals, their goal was to prevent that from happening.
As Veterans sat on the 15, they found a little daylight on a sweep to the right around the 10-yard line. With the clock winding down, they were able to get a play off at the buzzer, but were unable to get across the goal line making the final score stand 26-0.
The Generals, now 4-1 on the season, are still in prime position for the playoffs, even with two games left, and for English, he believes tonight’s game was just round one between the Cardinals and the Generals.
“I think we will (see Cousins in the championship game),” he said. “I’m going back to the drawing board, and I’m not going to throw my towel in because I’m not that type of person. What I believe in is going back to fundamentals and getting back at it. We have to do fundamental football.”
Coach Jones echoed the same sentiments.
“Hands down we may see them again,” he said. “They’re a good team. You’ve got to give it to them. I know they were a little banged up, and just because the score says 26-0, that doesn’t tell the whole story.”
A potential second meeting will have to wait for now, though, as Cousins’ next challenge comes from Clements, while Veterans will next square off against Liberty.
For English, on top of fundamentals, he wants to improve on depth after missing his top linebacker, Armon Jackson, tonight due to injury.
“He’s a good cover guy and a smart player,” English said. “With his knowledge of the game, you can tell he’s been around it for a while. That was a big loss for us tonight.
On the Cardinals side, the now 5-0 squad is looking to keep the Wolverines of Clements from spoiling their perfect season.
“We have a short turnaround playing next Wednesday,” he said. “Hopefully our guys will rest up and be ready to go.”