By Sarah Moomaw / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
The Newton County Cougars opened the 2013 season with a bang, earning a 47-14 win over Neshoba Central.
Cougar head coach Jackie Williamson said when he got to the field, he asked the guy running the touchdown celebration cannon if he had ever run out of shells before because Friday night might be the night.
“I said, 'I hope you have to use everyone of them up,'” WIlliamson said. “I dunno how close he came tonight, but I hope he came close.
“It's a big win for our program. They are a 5A school, that is very successful … we knew it was going to be a tough ball game.”
Williamson said he was bringing confidence into the game in his team's speed and specialty units. He said before the game that the specialty guys could be the difference making and they proved in on the first series.
Sophomore Trent Hudnall returned a Neshoba fourth-down punt for an 80-yard touchdown with 8:39 left in the first period.
The two point conversion failed for a 6-0 Cougar lead.
“It was really something that broke the game open for us,” Williamson said.
But it wasn't smooth sailing just yet. The Rockets retaliated less than two minutes later to tie the game. Pat Burrage scored on a third and eight to make it 6-6 after the conversion failed.
The two squads continued to trade touchdowns in the final six minutes of the quarter making Williamson nervous.
“We got worried early when they started trading touchdowns with us,” he said. “We didn't want the game to be close and we knew if it got close we were going to be in trouble. All sudden you look around, we jump up two touchdowns.”
Jamoral Graham broke the tie with a 27-yard run and the extra point by Bryden Reed with 3:29 on the clock.
But just 27 seconds later, the lead changed sides. After Burrage caught the kickoff on the his own 43-yard line, Kavante McCarty took the hand off from quarterback Taylor Irby for a 55-yard run. The successful conversion gave the Rockets their final tally of the night and a short lived 14-13 lead.
A minute and 11 seconds in the the second period. Senior De'Andre Wansley caught an 18-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Jacob Edwards for a score.
“We had to come out of halftime and score that first series, we score the first series and go up by three scores,” he said. “They go into their spread and we'd knew we'd be okay.”
Edwards would take care of the next score on the Cougars' next possession as well. He recovered a fumble for a 14-yard rush, with Graham connecting on the extra point to make the score 24-14 at half time.
In the second half, the Cougars added three touchdowns, including another Edwards to Wansley combo.
With 10:16 on the clock, Wansley caught a 32-yard pass from Edwards for a 19-yard run into the endzone. Graham, once again, connected to make it a seven-point play, boosting the Cougars over the Rockets, 33-14.
Newton County would score again, but solely on the back on Graham. He caught a punt return at the 34 yard line before taking the handoff from Edwards on the very next play. Graham finished the job he started, by running for a 66-yard touchdown and making the field goal to go up 40-14.
“I'll take a one-play drive, 65-yard touchdown anyday,” Williamson said.
The final score of the game came with 4:56 left the third quarter as the Cougars capitalized on a Neshoba fumble. Wansley capped what Williamson said was “a great ball game” with a 55-yard run after recovering the fumble on their own 45-yard line.
After a scoreless fourth quarter, Williamson said he couldn't have drawn out the night's end any better.
“Always feel better when you go home with the win on a Friday night,” he said. “Waking up Saturday morning is always easy. It's always good to get a win to start season because you don't feel like your fighting for survival.”