The game of the season between two rivals ended in classic fashion. Newton took the game and the county championship crown in a thrilling 29-26 victory. Rockdale played great, the Bulldogs led for most of the game, but it was Newton's final drive that drove the nail in the coffin. Here's some takeaways from the game.
Devin Williams and the offensive line
Rockdale running back Devin Williams and the Bulldog offensive line were a big reason why the Bulldogs led for much of the game. When they ran the ball, the line was quick at the point of attack getting their hands on Newton's defensive line and pushing them downfield. After passing for 61 yards and a touchdown on their first drive, Rockdale went to the running game on the second drive and it worked almost flawlessly. Williams ran the ball for 45 yards and a touchdown on that drive. Williams is a small back, but he's strong, fast and agile. When the blocking was good, which it was mostly, Williams would make one quick cut back inside our outside and he'd be off for a big gain. That's exactly what happened on on Rockdale's third scoring drive. Williams reeled off a 21-yard gain and his threat out of the backfield was enough to help Rockdale score, despite Williams not touching the ball. On that same scoring drive, after another Williams rushing attempt, Bulldogs' quarterback Zuri Minnifield found University of Missouri commit TJ Warren for a 27-yard screen that went for a touchdown. Williams played a part in this because the Rams over pursued, likely expecting the run. Williams was named Rockdale's MVP of the game, as he crossed the 1,000-yard rushing mark during the contest.
It's always best to surround every good/great quarterback with as many weapons as possible, and that's what Rams' coach Terrance Banks has done with receivers Deandre Huff, Davonta Jones, Khamari Robinson and Jeremiah Holloman. Jones is a nicely built, tall receiver who can catch the short passes and turn them into big gains, catch the intermediate routes over the middle and/or go deep and bring down a clutch pass. Jones is the No. 1 target and the most prolific of the core, but the other three receivers are nothing to laugh at. Huff has the speed to go deep and get behind receivers or create separation and catch a short pass. He did both against Rockdale. Huff caught the Rams' first touchdown on a 32-yard pass in which Huff sped past the secondary for the score. Robinson is a short, speedy pass-catcher but he catches the short/intermediate passes and is a big enough threat to pay attention to on defense. Holloman is a big target, a tall possession receiver that can go up and get the jump ball and make the tough catches. If you isolate him, which Newton was a able to do a few times, and get single coverage, odds are he's coming down with the pass. Holloman caught a back shoulder fly route pass from Johnson in single coverage and a fade route jump ball for the Rams' final two-point conversion. The core is strong and will be a valuable piece to Newton's playoff puzzle.
It used to be hard to be high on Newton's defense. They're a really good offensive team, but when it comes to defense it just seemed they weren't as strong. However, it seems that way now. The secondary played well against Rockdale. There were lapses, but they came down with two interceptions in the game. The defense didn't give up any long passes over the top and that'll prove beneficial when teams try to go deep against the Rams in the playoffs. Steven Montac, who had a good showing against Lovejoy standout receiver Preston Williams, came up with the pick after he jumped a route intended for Rockdale's TJ Warren. They lack size, but not necessarily talent. The secondary can also tackle, well sometimes. They did good bottling up Warren on reverse and not letting Williams get to the outside on stretch runs. The defense's weakness is in the middle and in the screen game, but adjustments can be made to shore them up in that area, especially with AJ Palomino manning the middle.
Davonta Jones versus TJ Warren
Jones and Warren - two really good receivers - are arguably their respective team's best players. Both are highly touted prospects that will play Division l football after they graduate in the spring. The Bulldogs and Rams use Warren and Jones in similar factions. They each line up all over the field, on the outside, in the slot, at tight end and sometimes at quarterback. Warren plays defensive back as well and was matched up with Jones at times and they went at it. On one play Jones ran past Warren on a fly route, but Johnson slightly didn't get enough air under the ball just enough that Jones had to slow down and come back to it. It was a jump ball, with the edge to Warren and Jones couldn't make a play leaving Warren to come down with the interception. Later in the game Jones was lined up against Warren again, but this time he made Warren pay. On a route that went to the back of the endzone, Johnson made a great throw giving Jones the advantage on the jump ball. Jones came down with the ball and the score, a crucial moment for Newton, as they were trailing by two scores at the time. Warren and Jones had great games in the battle for the county line championship. Warren finished with four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Jones had five catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns. A great way to end their high school careers versus each other. You'll be seeing them play on Saturday soon enough.