It was Senior Night on Saturday as the Newton class of 2008 participated in its final home game, only to be dominated by Stephenson 46-13 at Homer Sharp Stadium.
Regardless of the loss, it was also a preview of 27 talented freshmen and sophomores taking the field to give the Rams and fans a look into the future.
"I think our future is bright," said Newton head coach Nick Collins "If we are going to build a program - not just build a team, but build a program - we have got to build it from the ground up. This group of underclassmen will be with me the longest and we need to capitalize on that and get these guys ready."
On Newton's (1-7 overall, 1-4 Region 2-AAAAA) first possession of the game, freshman quarterback Kenneth Patrick threw a lateral pass to former quarterback-turned-wide receiver Demetrius McCray, connecting with wide-out Ruben Hatchett for a 45-yard play to the Stephenson's (7-1, 4-1) 20-yard line.
But several plays later kicker Matt Veal attempted a 34-yard field goal that sailed wide to the left, keeping the Rams scoreless on the first series of downs in the opening quarter.
Stephenson then took over possession for the first time. The Jaguars elected to keep the ball on the ground, employing three different running backs on an 8-play drive, eventually forcing Stephenson to punt.
The Rams continued to struggle with its running game, as D.J. Hill was hit hard for a lost of 3 yards. On second and 13, Patrick showed his arm strength by loafing a hail Mary pass to Davon Mann, who made a tremendous catch in traffic for 55 yards. Patrick was perfect - connecting twice - first to Hill for 5 yards then to Kerion Patrick for 14 yards.
Patrick (173 yards passing) then found a wide-open Hatchett for a 24-yard touchdown reception. After the extra point by Veal, Newton was on the board 7-0 with two minutes and 41 seconds remaining in the first.
"You have to give them credit," said Stephenson head coach Ron Gartrell after the game. "They had a pretty good game plan, and it took us a while to adjust to it."
But Stephenson didn't take long to respond after a huge kick-off return from Harkeem Haynie deep inside Newton's 10-yard line. Three play later, Raymond Sanders took it in for the touchdown. Kenneth Broome kicked the point-after, tying the game 7-7 with under a minute remaining.
"We built our program on speed and quickness," said Gartrell. "We got guys that could run, even got big guys that could run so that has been us for a long time and we try to do what we have to do to prepare these guys during the off-season to harness all of that speed and power that we have."
At the start of the second quarter, Stephenson mounted a seven-play drive using all three running backs to rack up 40 yards. Denzel Hartley rumbled 19 yards for Stephenson's second rushing touchdown. After the extra point, Stephenson led 14-7 with 8:55 left.
Newton then began to breakdown as the offense went completely flat after an eight-play drive with Patrick going ice cold, completing 2-of-6 passes for 16 yards.
"Right now, we are almost one dimensional," said Collins. "It's hurting us when we get into jams when we need to get three or four yards and need to run it. When you take (Pooler) out of the running game, you will struggle."
Newton's defense came to the rescue by holding the Jags to a four-play drive. Broome attempted the 37-yard field goal that went wide to the right.
Patrick tried to rally the Rams' offense by connecting with Hatchett for a gain of four. He then attempted another pass but was forced out of the pocket, fumbling the ball. Samuel McClain recovered it with 1:03 remaining before the half.
Stephenson began its series with a new quarterback Rashaad Carter. Several plays later, Sanders took it again for the Jaguars score. But Broome missed the point-after, keeping it 20-7 with 15.3 seconds before halftime.
On Newton's first possession of the second half, running back Quinton Pooler made his appearance in the game by picking up a gain of 3 yards. But on third and six, Patrick scrambled and lost the football again for the second time, recovered by Joshua Williams.
Stephenson wasted no time on capitalizing on the freshman's mistake. It took the Jaguars two plays for Rudolph to score on a handoff for his second touchdown of the game. After Broome's kick was good, Stephenson extended its lead with 7:40 remaining in the third quarter.
On third and goal at Stephenson's 6-yard line, Geoffrey Thomas handed off to Pollard on an inside reverse to score. After the Broome kick, Stephenson began to run away with the game, 34-7.
In the fourth, the Rams could not move the football. To make matters worse, a bad snap occurred and Veal recovered the ball at Newton's 10-yard line.
Thomas again handed off to Hartley (4 carries for 43 yards) on a dive play for a 15-yard touchdown run. Broome failed on the point-after, but the score was 40-7 with 10:21 left.
The Rams have nothing to lose at this point, beginning at its own 12-yard line.
Patrick found his rhythm again by connecting with Pooler for 8 yards to Newton's 20-yard line. Patrick again hits Pooler on a swing pass for 13 yards and a first down.
However, Patrick would leave the game with a knee injury.
Sophomore Franklin Clackum made his debut as Newton's quarterback. After going three and out, Newton lines up in punt formation.
On fourth and seven, Josh Cloer took the center snap and passed it to Hatchett (5 catches for 67 yards) for a 32-yard gain, bringing it to Stephenson's 27-yard line and getting a first down to keep the drive alive with 6:22 left.
Clackum displayed that he has a strong arm, too, connecting with fellow underclassman Davon Mann (5 catches for 90 yards) for a 26-yard play resulting in a touchdown. After a blocked Veal kick, Newton had another score with 6:14 left.
Stephenson finished off the night with a nine-play drive starting at Newton's 31-yard line. Jordan Owens came in and captivated the Stephenson fans, gaining 55 yards on five carries, which included a 27-yard run - the longest run of the night.
Owens put the exclamation point on the win with a 4-yard touchdown run to make it 46-13.
"I applaud the kids and the coaching staff at Newton," said Gartrell. "They are going in the right direction."