On Friday night two winless teams entered Homer Sharp Stadium to do battle on the gridiron. And this much was certain: One of those teams would leave with a victory, while the other would just leave.
It was a region game, meaning the game would not end in a tie. And in the world of sports there are things you don't want to happen. In baseball, being the victim of a no-hitter is a bad thing. In basketball it is never a good thing to miss free throws with a game on the line. In soccer or hockey a goalie never wants to allow a goal to lose a game. And in golf a player certainly does not want to miss a short putt to lose a championship.
For a new head football coach, he definitely does not want to go 0-10 during his first season. Unfortunately, for the Newton Rams and head coach Nick Collins that loomed as a distinct possibility heading into Friday night's battle against the Lithonia Bulldogs.
Newton competes in a brutal region with such powerhouses as M.L. King and Stephenson still remaining on the schedule. But this was a game that had the MUST-WIN label stamped all over it. Several times this season the Rams have seen a potential victory slip through their hands in games they felt they should have won.
Was this to be another near miss?
Things didn't start out well for the boys in blue when Lithonia took a punt 81 yards for pay dirt and led 7-0 without having run an offensive play. However, Newton's defense came to play on Friday night, and Lithonia would not score another point.
The million-dollar question was could the Rams dent the board on the offensive side? It was actually the defense that scored the first points for them as it netted two points on a safety. A good return on the free kick following the safety put Newton in business again.
However, the Rams stalled out at the 20. Newton's Matt Veal drilled a 37-yard field goal and suddenly the Rams only trailed 7-5. (Yes, this was a football game and not a baseball game.)
Things began to get ugly on the field. In fact, if you did a search on the internet for "ugly football game" you might generate a hit from the game on Google. There were so many yellow flags adorning the field throughout the game that I fully expected to hear Tony Orlando start singing "Tie a yellow...."
But the Newton-faithful in the stands could sense a victory was there for the taking. Whenever the defense needed to make a stand, the fans were on their feet cheering in support. The bands were into the action, as well, albeit a bit too much as each was warned to tone it down when the other team had the ball. A rash of turnovers, both fumbles and interceptions, kept either team from moving consistently on offense.
In the fourth quarter, Newton's offense would finally make its move. Freshman quarterback Kenneth Patrick rolled right and found a wide open Demetrius McCray, giving the Rams a first down at the Lithonia 11-yard line. Two quick hitters up the middle and Newton looked at first and goal from about the 1-yard line. Patrick then called his own number, scooting across the goal line to give the Rams an 11-7 lead.
It would be up to Newton's defense to hold serve, insuring a victory. Several penalties against Lithonia and then a Newton interception appeared to seal it for the home team.
However, the Rams returned the favor, fumbling the ball and giving it right back to the Bulldogs near midfield. But Newton's defense decided this was its night, and gave the ball back to the offense on four downs.
After a first down, the Rams' offense went into the victory formation as Patrick took a knee twice to let the clock run out.
Collins had his first win as a head coach, and the Rams had broken a nine-game losing streak. After the game ended, he received the traditional ice water bath for a big victory. It was an ugly victory, but nevertheless a huge victory for Newton.
One thing is now certain: Newton will not go 0-10. And oh, what a relief it is!