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Posted: November 3, 2011 6:30 p.m.

Rams face must-win to keep playoffs hopes alive

Two weeks ago, the Rams’ playoff hopes were left for dead. Four straight losses to open Region 2-AAAAA had taken care of that.  With one game remaining, not only have Newton’s postseason chances been resuscitated, they’re very much alive. 

After last Friday’s 23-3 win over Langston Hughes, Newton is solidly in the mix. The Rams improved to 2-4 in Region 2-AAAAA play while winning for the second straight week. 

The Rams broke a four-game skid with their win over Westlake the week before and in the process, put themselves back in the playoff hunt. Thanks to Westlake’s win over East Coweta, Newton has a chance to earn the region’s fourth playoff seed with a win over Luella tonight at Sharp Stadium. But the Rams aren’t solely in charge of their own destiny.

Newton still needs some things to go their way. As it stands, Newton and Westlake are tied for fifth with two region wins apiece while East Coweta currently owns the fourth and final playoff spot with a 3-3 region record. But because the Indians lost to Westlake, it’s possible all three teams could finish the regular season with identical 3-4 region records. If that happens, the Rams would earn the fourth playoff spot based on their record against Class AAAAA opponents.

By virtue of Georgia High School Association rules, tiebreakers are decided by winning percentage against teams in the same classification. Should each team finish 3-4 in region play, the Rams would get the nod based on their two wins against Shiloh and Northview earlier in the season.

Newton’s playoff hopes hinge on three games. The Rams must first beat Luella on senior night and hope Westlake beats Langston Hughes in its season-finale at home on senior night also tonight. That seems likely as the Panthers are winless in the region and have only two wins on the season. Then, East Coweta must lose to Newnan. The Indians travel to play the Cougars on their senior night.

Despite all that must go Newton’s way, each scenario is possible if not likely. The Rams beat Luella on the road last year and the Lions have just one region win and give up a region-high 27 points per game. The Cougars haven’t lost to East Coweta in nine years and would love nothing more than to knock their rivals out of the playoff picture and Westlake is the better team in their game.

Westlake almost single handedly controls the fate of all three teams. If the Lions win tonight, and Newton wins, Westlake would be the odd man out regardless of what East Coweta does even though they beat the Indians.  If Westlake loses, the Indians get the fourth seed win or lose regardless of whether the Rams win or not. Newton and East Coweta would finish with identical 3-4 region records but the Indians would win the tie-breaker based their win over the Rams in week five.

As far as what the Rams face tonight, it’s essentially their game to lose. Newton has reeled off two impressive wins in as many games  and has the running game going as well as it has all year. Javonte Williams continued his assault on 1,000 yards last week with a 218-yard performance and is just 15 yards shy of reaching the mark. If he hits it, he’ll become the first back in more than a decade at Newton to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing plateau.

The Rams need only to control the ball and limit their mistakes. Gmatreian Brown has rebounded from a tough stretch to guide the offense efficiently and the defense made two big plays last week that led directly to nine points. 

Luella may give up the most points per game in the region but the Lions do score — at least on paper. Their 22-point-per-game average is five more than what the Rams put up but that total is skewed by the 42 points they scored against M.L. King in week six. Luella scored most of those points off turnovers.

The key to a Newton win comes down to how well the Rams start and how early they can establish the run. The Rams don’t need to blow the Lions off the field. They simply need to play disciplined football — something they’ve improved upon recently. Still, they committed their fair share of penalties against Westlake the last time they were at home but were able to overcome them thanks to several big plays on both sides of the ball.

The Rams are at their best when the defense is making plays. That was never more evident than last week when they had a safety and two long fumble returns — one for a touchdown. That type of play will certainly propel the Rams to a win. As far as everything else, that’s out of Newton’s hands. 

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