MCDONOUGH - Kenneth Patrick sat on the ground and peeled the dirty white pieces of athletic tape from his legs.
He didn't even take the time to stare at the scoreboard clock, didn't bother watching the final seconds of his freshman season tick away. Instead, Patrick - and the team he quarterbacks - already was focused on the future.
Newton High ended its 2007 season Friday night by doing what it did for most of the past three months - losing.
The latest and last chapter was written in a 56-20 defeat at Union Grove, a game that was wildly entertaining for a while thanks in large part to Patrick's sheer athleticism.
And, while youthful mistakes did rear their head from time to time, experience is the best teacher. That's why Newton first-year head coach Nick Collins summoned a large number of inexperienced players and let them cut their teeth at the varsity level.
"We have to," Collins said. "I've said it before. At one point, we realized we were going to have to play the young kids and get them experience for the future."
Union Grove (3-7 overall, 2-5 Region 2-AAAAA) came into the game having lost seven of its past eight. But fueled by the impressive running of Georgia Tech signee Steven Sylvester - who has inked with the Yellow Jackets as a linebacker - the Wolverines simply overpowered the Rams on the ground.
Sylvester had a field day against Newton, rushing for 216 yards and four touchdowns.
"We have some major issues to deal with in the offseason, running the football and defensively," Collins said.
Despite trailing 21-0 early in the second quarter, the Rams (1-9, 1-6) played their way back into it thanks to Patrick. The elusive signal-caller bobbed and weaved around the Wolverines' blitz throughout the night, finishing 8-for-24 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed for a score, and gave Newton fans a tantalizing look at how exciting the future may be.
"I'm going to be better," Patrick said. "Being a freshman starting quarterback was tough, but now I've got experience. Next year, I'll already know what it's like at the varsity level."
Patrick played a key role in all three Newton touchdowns. He hit junior receiver Demetrius McCray with a beautiful touch pass down the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown. Patrick scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal, and then brought Newton within 35-20 on a 49-yard scoring strike to DeAndre Rashada with only 3.9 seconds left in the opening half.
The 20 points Newton scored is a season high, and the Rams did it in nine minutes, 14 seconds of the second quarter.
Unfortunately, they simply could not stop the Wolverines, who rolled up 321 yards of total offense in the first half.
And it started early.
Union Grove's Donovan Johnson busted loose up the middle on the opening kickoff for a 65-yard return to the Newton 30. Kicker Matt Veal saved a touchdown.
The Wolverines needed just four plays to reach the end zone. Sylvester finished the drive with a 4-yard run and just 1:52 into the game, the Rams trailed 6-0.
After Newton went three-and-out on its initial possession, the Wolverines marched 51 yards on six plays. Gerald Reed raced 17 yards up the middle for a touchdown, and Sylvester added the two-point conversion run to make it 14-0 Union Grove with five minutes left in the opening quarter.
It got worse for the Rams. A 13-play, 54-yard drive by the Wolverines chewed six minutes off the clock, and Union Grove reached the end zone again on a 12-yard run by Sylvester with 9:34 to go in the first half.
But down 21-0, the Rams finally were able to put something together on offense. And they struck quickly.
On first-and-10 from the Newton 25, McCray slipped behind the coverage off the line of scrimmage. Patrick hit him in stride, and McCray raced 75 yards to the end zone.
Veal nailed the extra point, and suddenly the Rams were in the game, down 21-7 with 9:17 to go before halftime.
The play gave the Rams a spark, and it showed on the ensuing kickoff. Veal put down an onside kick, and senior Kirk Butler pounced on the loose ball for the Rams, giving Newton possession.
A penalty on the play pushed Newton back to its 49, but two plays later, Patrick and McCray hooked up again, this time for 30 yards to move the Rams to the Union Grove 15.
But just when it appeared the Rams were about to reach the end zone again and cut the deficit to just seven points, the Wolverines snuffed out the drive. Union Grove's Wade Oglesby intercepted Patrick at the 8-yard line.
Seven plays later, Union Grove was in the end zone again. Sylvester carried five times on the march, the last one going off right tackle for 11 yards and the touchdown to put Newton in a 27-7 hole with 4:58 remaining in the first half.
The Rams, sparked by Patrick and McCray, answered. A screen pass to the right side went for 23 yards. Four plays later, a screen to the left gained 27 yards, pushing the Rams to the Union Grove 10.
On third-and-goal from the 7, Pass scrambled left but was knocked out of bounds at the 1 by Terrance Green. Facing fourth-and-goal from the 1, Pass dove over the left side of the line and into the end zone, capping a nine-play, 75-yard drive. Veal drilled the extra point, and the Rams found themselves only down 27-14 with 2:58 left in the opening half.
Once again, Union Grove - led by Sylvester - responded.
On the second play of the ensuing drive, from the Wolverines' 13, Sylvester broke loose down the right sideline, and used a nifty cutback move to break free and reach the end zone. The 87-yard touchdown run pushed his total above 200 for the night, and Reid Moss' two-point conversion run made it 35-14 Wolverines with 2:04 remaining in the half.
It looked like that would be the halftime score, especially when the teams swapped possessions and Newton took over on downs at its 37 with 23.8 seconds left.
But that was more than enough time for Patrick to make things happen for the Rams.
He found McCray - who caught six passes for 170 yards - for 15 yards and a first down at the Union Grove 48. Then, Patrick slipped through the Union Grove rush, rolled right and found a wide-open Rashada for a 48-yard touchdown, pulling the Rams to within 35-20 at intermission.
"We just came out and didn't execute at first," said Patrick, whose 225 passing yards all came in the first two quarters. "We got out there and started executing."
Union Grove blew it wide open in the third quarter. Oglesby blocked a punt and Darren Mays returned it for a touchdown, and Moss scored on runs of 15 and 51 yards to complete the scoring.
Collins hoped the Rams could win a few games in his first season and build enthusiasm for the program. Instead, he's had to endure through a rough debut campaign in Covington, but with so many freshmen and sophomores earning varsity playing time, Collins is confident the future of the Newton program is bright.
"There is a lot of promise here," he said. "The people in Newton County and with the Newton County School System have a lot to look forward to."
So, too, does his quarterback, who now - as can many of his teammates - shed the inexperienced label.
"We are very optimistic about next year," Patrick said. "I feel good about our future."