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Newton County takes emotional victory

By By David Denham/Special to The Star
Sept. 15, 2001
DECATUR An emotional opening ceremony was held at Newton County High School, the second game in their new stadium. And the host Cougars used that emotion to power to a 31-14 victory over Morton on Friday night.
A musical tribute to the victims of this weeks terrorist attacks, indeed a tribute to our entire nation, preceded the playing of The Star Spangled banner. The NCHS players then burst onto the football field, each carrying an American flag.
The emotion carried over to the opening possession, with Newton County scoring quickly on a five-play, 65-yard drive. The drive was capped off with a 12-yard toss sweep to Darryl Mapp who crashed into the end zone. Derek Mapp got the drive rolling for NCHS on the second play from scrimmage. Taking a pitch at his own 35, Derek Mapp raced down the sideline to the Morton 21 for a 44-yard gain.
Morton tried to answer with a 13-play drive, assisted by a pass interference call. The NCHS defense held , and Morton's 37-yard field goal attempt was wide left. Moments later, the teams exchanged turnovers.
Early in the second quarter, Darryl Mapp once again picked up big yardage with a sweep around the left side. The Morton defense stiffened, and NCHS place kicker David McConnell illustrated his tremendous kicking ability with a 49-yard field goal, clearing the crossbar, and to spare for a 10-0 lead.
Morton began a 10-play drive of their own, again assisted by a crucial penalty. The Cougar defense finally roused from it's slumber and shut down the Panther attack. After an exchange of punts, the Panther passing attack came to life, and with two quick slant passes, got to the NCHS 1 yard line.
A handoff to the tailback and the Panthers now trailed by only three, 10-7, with the first half closing minutes later.
The Morton Panthers opened the second half with a big return to their 40 yard line. Four plays later, with the ball just shy of the 50, the Panthers failed to pick up the first down. The Cougars went three and out, but pinned the Panthers on their own five-yard line. The Cougar defense pushed them back to their one, and took over at the Morton 36 after the punt.
Darryl Mapp gained six yards with hard running up the middle. Using a little shake and bake', Mapp managed to get to the 10. However, Mapp fumbled on the next play and the Panthers managed to recover the squirting pig. Two plays later Michael Johnson recorded one of three sacks for NC.
The Cougars took over with great field position again, and three running plays later, Darryl Mapp , looking as if he were running downhill, found the endzone again to give the Cougars a 17-7 advantage.
The Panthers returned the kickoff to their 27, and Josh Avant got a sack on the first down play. The Cougars were again helped by the zebra's flags, much to the chagrin of the hometown crowd.
After another exchange of punts, the Panthers once again found themselves pinned deep in their own den. Two plays later, the Panthers fumbled, Richard Coft scooped up the ball, and went seven yards into the promised land. Midway through the forth quarter, NCHS led Morton 24-7.
Morton moved the ball from their 20 to the 50, but stalled there, thanks to some passes being broken up by Brandon Ezell and Brian McDonald ( going both ways, playing defensive back as well as quarterback). The Cougars then ground up the clock as they churned their way down the field, with John Kidd plowing over the goal line.
Although they trailed 31-7, Morton continued to fight. Taking over on their 20, the Panthers struck with an 80 yard pass and run, the Cougar defense unable to catch the wide receiver who had slipped behind them. The onside kickoff attempt failed, and NCHS killed the clock as this dogfight ended.
Morton coach Doug Merchant said, "Our team played hard, but we were up against a good team. Coach Breland does a real good job. If we could have gotten a couple of breaks in the third and fourth quarters, it would have helped. We struggled on offense, but we have a good bunch of kids and we will be a good football team this season."
NCHS coach Jeff Breland credited Morton for "really getting after us. They took away our tailback counter the first half, but we were finally able to spring it in the second half. Both teams gave a lot of effort, and our defense stepped up a couple of times."