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Posted: December 6, 2011 4:57 p.m.

Ram-Tiger duel one for the ages

If you left the Alcovy-Newton game early Saturday, shame on you. You missed what will likely go down as the greatest rivalry game the county will ever see. Perhaps it’s understandable if you were one of those who decided to spend the rest of your evening doing something other than falling asleep in the stands after a painfully boring first half. That’s why they play two halves though.

Yes, the first half was terrible basketball by both teams. Alcovy and Newton combined to score 31 points. For a while the question was whether Newton would get shutout in the first quarter. It was ugly. Neither team could muster any type of offense. Then, all of a sudden, the two teams came out for the second half and an instant classic broke out.

The most overused cliché for the type of game these two teams played is the analogy of a prize fight. Maybe this one time it’s truly fitting to use it though. Here’s why.

Each team delivered big shots and made big plays with their backs against the wall. Each team delivered punches that would have knocked most teams out only to see the other pick itself off the deck, get some water and smelling salts in their corner and come back out for another round.

Newton’s Stephen Croone and Alcovy’s Devon Edwards, good friends and players who know each other well, were the fiercest of opponents. Each willed his team to stay upright. When Edwards put the Tigers on his back, it only pushed Croone to do the same with his Rams.

Croone went from hero to goat, to hero, back to goat, then hero again all in the span of 12 minutes. He hit the second biggest shot in Newton’s history under head coach Rick Rasmussen at the end of regulation when he fired off a 35-footer that was pure to send the game into overtime. 

The tone, the fight was on.

Justin Thompson landed a big blow for the Rams when he scored seven points during a 10-2 run the in the third quarter. Newton desperately needed a spark. The Rams were on the ropes. Thompson’s surge was the counter punch at a critical time. 

Croone and Edwards went back and forth and with them their teams swayed on wobbly knees. Both teams started losing players to fouls. Newton lost Shane Henry — its best rebounder and Thompson — the guy who had provided the spark.

The haymaker came at the end of the first overtime. Croone delivered it via his three-point play to give the Rams a two-point lead.

Alcovy’s Michael Tucker responded with a pair of clutch free throws to tie it again and force a second overtime. The Tigers were down, not out.

Both coaches called timeouts along the way. Everyone needed a break. The players. The officials. The crowd. Each team took their 60 seconds in their respective corners only to return to the ring to fight again.

Edwards fouled out late in the second overtime — moments after Croone had given the Rams a one-point lead with another dramatic three. The Tigers were down — the referee counting.

Alcovy stumbled to its feet on the 8-count. Then the Tigers landed another desperate punch. This one knocked the Rams back, stumbling to the matt. Tucker’s put back with time winding down forced a third overtime.

The two teams put everything they had left on the line. It was the 12th round. A winner was going to emerge one way or the other. Tucker made sure the Tigers wouldn’t hit the matt another time. Both teams hit the deck twice already. The next knockout would end it via a TKO. 

Two shots off the iron sealed Newton’s fate. With three-fifths of their starting lineup on the bench from foul disqualifications, the Rams’ punches were less effective. Alcovy’s jaw was sturdier, at least on this day. There would be no fourth overtime. No need to go on. The fight was over.

The game ended with two teams deserving victory. Yet only one can win. Thirty years from now, when Edwards and Croone converge back to Newton County for their high school reunions, they’ll surely talk about this game. If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll pick up a basketball and play a little one-on-one. Maybe not. What nobody who was there Saturday will do is forget the best game they ever saw. A game for the ages.

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