The Newton Rams redeemed themselves by winning their first football game of the season, snapping a nine-game losing streak Friday night after defeating the Lithonia Bulldogs 11-7 at Homer Sharp Stadium.
The events that surrounded this victory for the Rams (1-5 overall, 1-2 Region 2-AAAAA) were bizarre and ugly to say the very least. Nevertheless, Newton head coach Nick Collins isn't complaining about the win.
"It feels great," said Collins. "It was (an) ugly win, but we will take it any way that we can get it."
Freshman quarterback Kenneth Patrick began the first quarter by leading the Rams on an impressive seven-play drive, which began from Newton's 36-yard line. Running back Quinton Pooler contributed to the drive by establishing the running attack after picking up positive yardage with three carries of 15 yards and a first down to Lithonia's 49-yard line.
Patrick, showing his arm strength, threw a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Demetrius McCray for another first down, setting up shop at Lithonia's 34-yard line.
Lithonia (0-6, 0-3) began to key in on Pooler and running back Kareem Clark as the Bulldog defense, led by Kierre Isaac, halted the Rams from gaining another yard on the ground.
Then the bottom fell out as Newton center Colby Westbrook delivered a bad snap to Patrick on third and 14. After Patrick recovered the ball, it was a devastating loss of 21 yards, forcing Newton to punt.
With five minutes and 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Bulldogs would take advantage of Newton's costly mistake as Julian Bellingular returned the punt 83 yards for Lithonia's only touchdown of the night. With the point-after by Jonathan Ransom, the Bulldogs led 7-0.
Newton's offense was three and out in its next series, giving Lithonia the ball for the first time in the game. The Bulldog offense executed well by mixing up its running and passing attacks thanks in part to running back Anthony Bell and quarterback Derrick Lovett.
Yet, Lithonia began to get into serious trouble toward the end of the first quarter when costly penalties started to rise for the Bulldogs. On second and 21, Lithonia fumbled the ball on a running play, and was recovered by Michael Kuku at Newton's 25-yard line.
After a huge hit put on Pooler by Antonio Lee and Willie Fuller during third and 5 for a loss of three, the Rams would have to punt on fourth and 8. However, Lithonia kept the Newton drive alive due to another penalty resulting in a fourth and 1 situation for the Rams at the 28-yard line.
Patrick took advantage by running a quarterback sneak to Newton's 38-yard line and picking up a first down.
But Newton fell apart when Patrick was forced to run out of trouble as Lithonia begin to show blitz. He fumbled the ball to which Lee recovered at Newton's 39-yard line.
The Bulldogs had possession with 9:21 remaining before halftime when they started to self-destruct. They produced 10 penalties for 45 yards before the end of the half, which included a block in the back, running into the kicker, false starts and a delay of game.
Lithonia simply could not move the football, which led to a display of a frustrated coaching staff.
"(Newton) played a bit better (toward the end)," said Lithonia head coach Rodney Hackney, "but we made more mistakes and the best team won."
In the second half, Newton's defense played extremely well, forcing Lithonia to quick-kick 44 yards to the Rams' 35-yard line.
Patrick immediately went to work, connecting with Ruben Hatchett for 18 yards and a first down. Newton continued to utilize its passing game as Patrick found Pooler for eight yards, bringing it to Lithonia's 41-yard line.
Lithonia continued to keep the drive alive for Newton with back-to-back offside calls, bring the Rams to the Bulldogs' 36-yard line. But Patrick's luck ran out on first and 10 when his pass was intercepted by Tavan Heights at Lithonia's 5-yard line.
However, Lithonia went from bad to worse. On third and six with 7:33 in the third, Lithonia center Brandon Bridges snapped the ball over the head of Lovett, sending it into Lithonia's end zone. Lovett had to recover the ball to prevent Newton from scoring.
But Newton defensive linemen Ken Johnson and Andrew Fulmer made sure that Lovett didn't go anywhere, and the Rams got their first defensive score of the year, now trailing by five.
After the free kick by Lithonia, Newton went to work at the 27-yard line.
Five plays and a Lithonia penalty later, Newton's Matt Veal booted a 37-yard field goal with 5:01 remaining in the third quarter, making it 7-5.
Tensions began to mount between both teams after Newton kicked off to Lithonia late in the third. Key players from both teams were ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct.
With both teams going three and out, Lithonia got the ball heading into the fourth quarter. And after Lithonia failed to convert on fourth down, Newton seized the moment and capitalized on the opportunity.
Patrick hit his favorite wideout McCray for 31 yards, which was Newton's longest pass play of the night, setting up at Lithonia's 11-yard line.
"I told my coaches to spread the field and throw the football." said Collins. "We (have) got to make people respect our passing game so we can run the ball more effectively."
Pooler came to life as he contributed an 8-yard run to the Bulldogs' 3-yard line. Patrick then went behind his offense line on a quarterback sneak for a gain of three yards, making it first and goal at the 1-yard line.
Patrick then called his own number, taking it in for Newton's first touchdown of the game. After the failed two-point conversion, Newton had its first lead 11-7 with 9:07 remaining in the game.
Lithonia tried to mount a comeback late in the fourth, yet penalties stalled another drive for the Bulldogs. Then the final nail in the coffin occurred when Lovett threw into coverage and was intercepted by Keagan Marks.
Newton tried to run the clock down with a six-play drive, but Patrick fumbled to which it was recovered by Almond Bullard at the Lithonia's 42-yard line.
The turnover gave the Bulldogs another chance, but shot themselves in the foot with more penalties.
Overall, Lithonia had 21 penalties for over 100 yards for the entire game.
After the Bulldogs lost the ball on downs, Newton went into its victory formation to run down the clock, ending the game.
"Our hats go off to them," said Hackney.