LOCUST GROVE - The struggles continued for Newton on Friday in region action when Luella used a late surge to win decisively 33-14 at the Lions Den.
The Rams (0-5 overall, 0-2 Region 2-AAAAA) simply could not catch a break. In fact, each time Newton scored the Lions (2-3, 1-1) countered with a big play of their own. For that matter, Luella running back Richard Barnes did nothing to help Newton's cause.
Barnes rushed for 286 yards (250 in the second half) on 21 carries, including one touchdown. He averaged 13.6 yards per rush, recording eight runs of 10 or more yards.
Despite Barnes' noteworthy performance, Newton head coach Nick Collins attributed it to his team not being able to make defensive plays when called upon, which has plagued the Rams throughout the season.
"He had three long runs (64, 71 and 61 yards)," said Collins, "and on each one we had two linebackers put in that gap and nobody made a play. Like I said before the game it's going to come down to who's going to make plays and we didn't make plays.
"If you can't beat this team, I don't know who you can beat."
Besides the inability to stop Barnes, the other story of the game was the classic tale of two halves, the latter being the unkind toward Newton.
In the first half, the Rams - trailing 6-0 - had 117 total offensive yards compared to Luella's 131. In fact, just one rushing yard separated the two teams, with Newton (38) having one more than the Lions.
But in the second half Luella exploded for 27 points, including 267 yards of total offense compared to just 26 by Newton. After averaging 4.0 yards per carry during the first half, Barnes upped it to 20.8 in the second.
Overall, the Lions had 398 total yards of offense, while Newton had 143.
Luella struck first in the opening quarter. After rushing for a 30-yard gain, Newton running back Quinton Pooler lost the ball. Brandon Holiday recovered the fumble, returning it to Newton's own 31-yard line.
During the ensuing play, Luella quarterback Kyle Dickey found Chance Masters for a 32-yard touchdown reception. After a host of Newton defenders blocked the extra point, the Lions led 6-0 with four minutes and 58 seconds left until the second quarter.
Solid defense executed by each team would play a vital role in the second, as zero points were scored. Another turnover (fumble) by the Rams at the top of the second helped Luella compile an 11-play drive, only to come up short by way of a missed 30-yard field goal by Travis Johnson.
Several changes of possessions later it was halftime, where Luella celebrated its homecoming with the thought of whether or not the Lions could hold on for the victory.
They did, using big plays from several players.
But not before Newton true freshman Akeem Hunt had anything to do with it. During the kickoff to start the third quarter, Pooler fumbled to which Hunt collected it and sprinted 75 yards to the end zone. After the extra point by kicker Matt Veal (two points), Newton had its first lead of the game, 7-6.
Unfortunately, it would last a whole 18 seconds after Roderick Sweeting responded with a 99-yard kickoff return. With a successful two-point conversion, Luella recaptured the lead 14-7 at the 11:27 mark.
The Lions added another score on their next possession when Barnes traveled 64 yards up the middle for a touchdown. After another blocked extra point, Luella led 20-7 with 4:58 left until the fourth quarter.
Things would eventually get better for the Rams in the fourth, if only temporary. Soon after a sack by Newton's Wesley Shelton, putting the Rams on Luella's own 4-yard line, Pooler scored with a soaring dive over the goal line. After the extra point, Newton trailed 20-7 with 10:50 left in the game.
Again, Luella would counter with a touchdown of its own, this time a 4-yard touchdown pass from Dickey to Masters. It was set up by yet another big run by Barnes (71 yards). After a failed two-point conversion, the Lions led 26-14 with 9:34 remaining.
Luella padded its lead after a change of possessions, this time on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Dickey to Sweeting at the 7:07 mark. The after-point had Luella leading 33-14.
Newton then went three-and-out, and the Lions opted to run the clock down with 10 running plays to end the game.
"This is another situation where it's a game we should have won," said Collins. "We had some turnovers early but we overcame all of that. We just don't have the guys to get it done right now, and I don't know if it's that they can't or they won't."
Not to be overshadowed, Dickey had quite a performance himself. Overall, he was 7 of 9 (78 percent) for 112 yards and three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Newton freshman quarterback Kenneth Patrick was 8 of 21 (38 percent) for 90 yards and one interception. Pooler finished with 55 rushing yards on 15 carries (3.7 YPC) and one touchdown.
Luella's Derron Webb led the Lions with three receptions for 53 yards. Masters had two catches for 36 yards and two touchdowns.
Demetrius McCray led the Rams with four catches for 45 yards. Freshman Davon Mann had two receptions for 34 yards.
Veal helped the Rams by averaging 42.2 yards per punt (five). In addition, he had punts of 51 and 50 yards, respectively.
Defensively, D'Mario Gunn led Luella with 4.5 tackles. Adrian Davis, Detrick Bonner and McGill each had four tackles apiece, while Jamar Crockett recorded the lone sack for the Lions.
Newton linebacker J.J. Hardge had a game-high 10 tackles, including one sack. Shelton recorded five tackles and two sacks. In addition, Andrew Fulmer and Ken Johnson each had one sack and four tackles apiece for the Rams.
"We're playing people (who) we're supposed to be able to beat," vented Collins, "and the bottom line is we got guys out here who are doing their own thing and not doing what they're coached to do."
Newton will next host Lithonia at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Homer Sharp Stadium.