Despite playing their best game to date and scoring their first touchdown of the year, the Newton Rams (0-3) were outdone by the Morrow Mustangs (1-2) Friday evening at Homer Sharp Stadium, 14-7.
"I think we saw our future," said Newton first-year head coach Nick Collins. "We're putting the pieces together - we just can't put them all together at once."
Overall, just 29 yards separated the teams in total offense; however, Newton (207 yards) had three turnovers in the game, two of which eventually led to Morrow (236 yards) field goals.
After a scoreless opening quarter, the Mustangs struck first with a 21-yard field goal by kicker Khalifa Agbakwuru (six points) with six minutes and eight seconds left until halftime.
Morrow led 3-0 entering the break thanks in large part to exceptional defense by both teams. But a combined 14 penalties were called by the hankie-happy officials for 90 yards. (Overall, both teams combined for 22 penalties, which led to 160 total yards.)
During Newton's opening drive of the third quarter, Morrow's Taylor Smith stuffed quarterback Kenneth Patrick (6 of 14 for 82 yards), forcing a fumble to which he then recovered for the Mustangs. Six plays later, Morrow led 6-0 after a 37-yard field goal by Agbakwuru.
After swapping possessions, Newton's Quinton Pooler (26 carries for 140 yards) decided to take matters into his own hands, rushing eight consecutive times that eventually led to a 50-yard touchdown to end the third quarter. And after the extra point by kicker Matt Veal, the Rams led 7-6, propelling them into the final 12 minutes of action.
"He's the type of (running) back we've been looking for," said Collins, "but we ran out of gas late."
Unfortunately, prior to Pooler's 50-yard gain - the biggest offensive play of the year for Newton - Smith suffered an excruciating leg injury (compound fracture) at midfield, causing a 15-minute delay. The Newton Medical EMS team responded immediately, providing first-rate assistance under such emotional circumstances.
While Smith was being cared for by Newton's finest, Collins gathered his team together for a moment of silence.
"I told them that between the lines we battle," said Collins, "but all those guys are brothers in Christ. In that type of situation, you've got to stop and say a prayer for him and his family because you never want to see that happen."
Fueled with the desire to win one for Smith, the Mustangs opened the fourth quarter with a six-play drive that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown by running back Steven Jones (16 carries for 98 yards). After a two-point conversion, Morrow led, 14-7, with 9:08 on the clock.
But the big blow of the drive came when Morrow quarterback Kowaski Kitchens (11 carries for 52 yards) hit Jones with a 51-yard pass. In fact, the only two passes completed by Kitchens were to Jones for a total of 70 yards.
As Collins noted earlier, the Rams simply ran out of gas in the end, unable to mount a comeback.
On the ground, the Mustangs had 166 rushing yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. In comparison, the Rams rushed for 113 yards on 41 attempts (2.76 YPC).
Demetrius McCray led the Rams with three catches for 45 yards.
Defensively, the Mustangs were led by linebacker Eddie Brown, who recorded a game-high seven tackles, including two sacks. Morrow's Patrick Mills had five tackles, while Dexter Davis had three tackles, including 1.5 sacks.
Newton's Michael Kuku led the Rams with six tackles. Both Davario Parker and Colby Westbrook each recorded four tackles, while Keagan Marks had 3.5 tackles.
Newton enters region play on Saturday when the Rams host Redan (1-2).