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Rockdale, Newton football matchup a big one
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As if playoff implications wasn't enough to bring up the excitement level of today's Newton versus Rockdale matchup at Sharp Stadium, there are plenty more big-time story lines set to unfold.

The Rams are looking for its third straight win; it expects a lot of excitement with its homecoming game scheduled for today; the game is one of the state's oldest rivalries renewed thanks to the Georgia High School Association's recent reclassification; and it pits Newton coach Cortez Allen against his old football coach.

The Rams (2-4, 2-0) are coming off two straight wins, after losing the first four games of the season with both of those victories being important as they were Region 2-AAAAAA matchups.

Newton is one of just two 2-AAAAAA teams, the other being Lovejoy, to go unbeaten in region play with four games remaining to decide playoff positioning. If the season were to end today, the Rams would not only be in the playoffs but would be a No. 2 seed with a home matchup.

"Our goal is to get a home playoff game, and this win will put us in the driver's seat, putting us one step closer to it," Newton coach Cortez Allen said. "It's very important for us."

Rockdale (2-5) is 2-1 in region play, just behind Newton, with two games remaining after tonight's contest. The Bulldogs have also already faced the region's strongest team in Lovejoy.

Both teams started out the season with four straight losses and limited offense. Since entering region play, however, Newton and Rockdale have shown improvement trying to turn the season around.

"Things are starting to come together for both teams," Allen said. "We're excited about where we are right now in the season. It's the time of the year where everybody is kind of getting into their groves and the kids have improved."

Both teams have seen that improvement on the offensive end. Newton has scored 33 of its 40 points on the season in its last two games, and Rockdale had its highest-scoring game last week, beating Luella 21-20.

Both teams are also utilizing young quarterbacks in Newton sophomore Kemani Pittman, who has come on in the last two weeks, and Rockdale freshman Zuri Minifield, who showed fortitude in a late game-winning drive against Luella. While both offenses have struggled early on in the 2012 season, Rockdale and Newton's defense has been tough at times. Rockdale shutout Morrow 9-0 on Sept. 28 and Newton held Druid Hills to three points and Alcovy to seven.

The similarity in the two team's defense, improvement and overall play stems from its coaches, as both are very familiar with each other.

Allen played under Rockdale coach Venson Elder at Southwest DeKalb high school, where the Newton coach graduated from in 1997.

Elder was the linebackers coach and Allen was a part of the Panthers defense that helped bring home a 1995 state championship.

Since then, Elder has gone on to be an assistant at Peachtree Ridge and took his first head coaching job at Rockdale before the 2012 season. Allen said Elder had much influence over how he conducts himself and coaches his players.

"He did a great job of passing down his knowledge to me," Allen said. "He's one of the guys I will always remember going forward."

The Rams have shown the ability to play tough, bouncing back from a rough start, and have done so with strong defense and a high-powered offense, a style he said Elder also uses. The way a coach runs his team is often handed down to his players and if the way the Rams are being run is any indication, than Elder and his coaching mentor are a good benchmark.

"Definitely, I think any coach affects all of us," Allen said. "Coach Elder played for Bear Bryant and his philosophy when he was at Alabama rubbed off on him.
And that kind of moved from generation to generation, where you know what it takes to be successful and to be a champion.

That's why you see the turnaround for both teams at this point of the season."

While Allen attributes the turnaround to strong defense and a high-powered style offense, he feels his team still has a better chance to come out on top.

"I'm pretty sure our philosophies are kind of the same, to dominate people up front and make sure other teams are not able to run the ball on us and get after the quarterback," Allen said. "But with that said, I'll take my kids any day over his kids. I feel like our front seven will dominate on both sides of the ball."

Both coaches have been eyeing this date on the schedule since Elder was named the Bulldogs coach.

Not only does it mean that the two will meet on the field for the first time - they coached against each other in the 2010 state track championships - but that Newton and Rockdale renew a historic rivalry.

The two schools started competing against each other in 1953 when they were Newton County High School and Rockdale County High School.

The last meeting between Newton High and Rockdale High went for a Rams' win 14-7 win on Oct. 17, 2003.

"I'm glad to have another great coach in the region and get closer to continue to use him to make me a better coach," Allen said. "We're definitely excited to play against them and reignite a rivalry that started in 1953."