In season openers, those mistakes seem to become more plentiful — and more painful.
In the case of Marietta’s 38-29 loss to Newnan on Friday at Northcutt Stadium, a few mistakes cost the Blue Devils the victory.
Perhaps the game’s most critical play came on a third-and-2 at Marietta’s 20.
With 7:11 left in the game, the Blue Devils (0-1) trailed Newnan 32-29. After a timeout, Marietta quarterback Anthony Jennings picked up the first down with a 3-yard run, but lost the ball.
Out of the pile, Newnan (1-0) had the ball.
“That was a big play right there,” Newnan coach Mike McDonald said. “I think it was a third-and-1. I didn’t see who got a hat or a hand in there, but there was a big play right there because it was a back-and-forth (game) at that point. We’d score — they’d score — so that was big.”
Two plays later, Georgia commitment Tray Matthews punched the ball into the end zone from 4 yards away to score his second touchdown of the game and give Newnan its final margin.
“I thought our kids played hard,” Marietta coach Scott Burton said. “We just didn’t play with great discipline early, I felt like — certainly to Newnan’s credit, but certainly (also) to our own undoing. There were some issues with penalties, turnovers and field positions, all of which I take full blame for. At the end of the day, those are the coaching issues which I have to do a better job with.”
While the difference with so little time left was ultimately a backbreaker, Burton said he was impressed with how Jennings has matured in handling such examples of adversity.
“Basically, what I said (to Jennings) was, ‘Six months or a year ago, you would have had a hard time getting over this,’” Burton said of his LSU-bound quarterback. “But he’s matured and grown as a man, so, what I said now was, ‘I know now that you are mature enough to come back.’ And I think you saw that a little bit because he was still able to come back and make some plays. We just dug ourselves too big of a hole.”
After Matthews’ touchdown, Jennings was able to drive Marietta down to the Newnan 3. But a third-down pass fell incomplete forcing, the kick team to come on with under 5 minutes to play.
Sophomore Ian Shannon lined a 20-yard field goal wide left, closing any chance for a Marietta rally.
The Blue Devils were 0-for-2 on field goals and had a punt partially blocked in the first quarter.
“(Shannon) works very hard and has a great leg,” Burton said. “There were some protection issues and some snap issues. Nobody can say that one guy either makes or breaks a play. Obviously, that’s never the case.
“It’s different when you have never played the game before, ever. To (Shannon) on such a big stage, maybe that was a little unfair to him. But we believe in him. He’s made a ton of pressure kicks in practice, and I know that he’ll do that down the road for us.”
Along with the fumble and special teams miscues, Marietta had an interception and was penalized 11 times for 100 yards. Still, Jennings was able to put good numbers, helped the Blue Devils to a first-half lead and kept Marietta in the game late.
For the game, Jennings had a role in three touchdowns — passing for one, running for one and even catching one. He finished 16-for-26 passing with 206 yards, ran for 105 yards on 16 carries and caught one pass for 21 yards on a trick play.
But, more than trick plays, Burton emphasized that the Blue Devils would he spend their time focusing on keeping a positive attitude ahead of next week’s game at Pope.
“I told our guys just now that this is a life test,” Burton said. “Sometimes, in life, things don’t go your way and you have to make a decision as to whether you are going to stay in the doldrums or fight your way out of it. School’s now in our third week, so school’s going to get harder and tests are going to start to come, and projects. And practice is going to get harder and longer, so we have to make a decision as to — do we cower in the corner or do we come out swinging? I believe that our kids will come out swinging.”