Both Taylor Carter and Adarius “DD” Thomas remember the play, but it was Carter who brought it up.
It was fourth down, early in last year’s Newton-Eastside rivalry game. It was the part of the game where no one had claimed hold of any true momentum yet, and both sides were still equally in the fight to wrest control away from the other.
The Eagles had the ball, trying to make an early statement with a fourth down conversion. Carter came around end as a ball carrier and met Thomas heads up. The result?
“I remember DD hitting me,” Carter said. “I didn’t convert. He talked a little smack.”
Thomas remembers what he said, too.
“I told him, ‘You’re gonna have to come harder than that,’” Thomas said. “None of that today.”
Since the all-time series was knotted at 6-6-1 coming in, this was dubbed the tie-breaker game in more ways than one.
The 2016 contest ended in a 41-41 tie because Georgia High School Association rules don’t require non-region games to go into overtime. And depending on which side you talked to, some believe the game ended in a tie because Newton was afraid of the prospect of losing in overtime to its Class AAAA little brother.
So while Eastside wanted to come into the game and show it can still hang with big bro, Newton wanted to put to rest any doubts of its ability to leave no doubt in an Eastside game.
Turns out that play was sort of a microcosm of how the game went for Newton, en route to a 40-0 washout of Eastside. It was Newton coach Terrance Banks’ first win against Eastside, and the school’s first since 2011.
Early on, and even before the game on social media, there was plenty of jawing at each other. But after the game, Carter said all the in-game vitriol was forgotten. Football players — and athletes in general — have the uncanny ability of switching on and off their hatred and love of the player on the other side during moments of competition.
It’s just the way things are when you start talking about rivalries, Carter says.
“It’s just like that,” he said. “He talked that smack. We talked that smack, but after the game, it’s a brotherhood. You’ll see us chillin and all that.”
The brotherhood part is especially true for Carter and Thomas. Both played together in little league football on the NewRock squad in Covington. Both built that brotherhood from an early age.
“Back then, we’d get up on Saturday mornings knowing we were gonna have a game,” Thomas said. “It was hype. Me and TC were like a 1-2 punch. When he ran the ball, I blocked. When I ran, he blocked.”
Said Carter: “It was crazy. Every single year we played. DD skipped a year to go with an all-star team, but when he came back, it was the same thing. He had that same energy, playing the same position. It was fun.”
Alcovy’s Jalen Banks had a bit of a different experience. He never got the chance to really play with or against Thomas and Carter before high school. Banks played his middle school ball at Veterans Memorial, but he only played in the eighth grade, and for just four games because of injury.
That’s enough, though, for the Tigers’ senior defensive end to have an understanding of just how important these kinds of games are.
“I still feel pretty much the same way (Carter and Thomas) feel,” Banks said. “It feels good to be able to play against the people you grew up with in middle school, but now you get to line up against each other in high school. It amps it up even more when you look across the ball and you know that guy. It makes you want to go the extra mile to get that win, make ‘em look bad and talk that trash in the end.”
Covington football fans will, indeed, get a local treat times three as the first three games of the season at Sharp Stadium will feature Alcovy, Eastside and Newton playing each other. And the players aren’t the only ones excited about it.
“I think it’s just a great thing for our kids, for the community and just for local football to have these schools playing each other again,” said Alcovy football coach Chris Edgar. “It’s a great showcase for the talent in our area.”
And also a rare opportunity for the kids to play in a big time Friday Night Lights environment.
“It’s going to be huge for these kids because of the crowds it’s going to bring,” said Eastside coach Troy Hoff. “These games always bring out the masses. They’ll be packed in, standing room only, and it will be an opportunity for these kids to play in the kind of atmosphere that a lot of guys in high school don’t get the chance to experience.”
This is the reason why Edgar says he made a beeline to the phone to call Newton coach Terrance Banks shortly after Edgar was promoted to head coach at Alcovy before the 2016 season.
Newton and Alcovy haven’t played in the regular season since 2015. The Rams and Tigers met last year during a spring football scrimmage which Newton dominated. Actually, the Rams have won the last four meetings by a combined score of 101-28.
The teams stopped playing for a variety of discussed and assumed reasons, but Edgar said none of that mattered to him when he became head coach. All that mattered was getting the two Covington schools back on the schedule again.
“I knew our teams hadn’t played each other in a long while, and so one of the first things I did was call coach Banks and let him know I wanted to get our schools back together again,” Edgar said. “It’s just two good of an opportunity, not just for our community, but for our kids to compete against a top 7A school. We have a lot of respect for Newton’s program, and we like the chance for our kids to see how they stack up.”
This year’s Alcovy-Newton matchup has definitely been met with a fair share of intrigue, largely thanks to some Twitter talk that’s gone on between players from the two schools.
It’s a phenomenon of football that both Thomas and Banks understand. But both players also know that best talk happens away from the screen.
“You gotta talk your game,” Thomas said. “But you also know you’ve gotta back it up when you talk. So it goes both ways. You can’t talk a whole lot if you’re not gonna back it up on the field.”
“Yeah, it feels good to play a rival and talk and all that,” he said. “But I don’t do all the talking. I like to talk with my pads.”
Beyond the rivalries, all three players said they see games on their schedules that they can’t wait to play.
“For me it’s Buford, Archer and Grayson,” Thomas said. “Because they’re known to be big dogs, and I like the challenge. I like to play in big games.”
Banks names all region games in his top three.
“Grovetown, Lakeside and Heritage for me, because I feel those are games we should’ve won last year. But we let little stuff and mental mistakes come back and bite us,” he said.
As for Carter, his list has a little bit more of a personal feel.
“Definitely Woodward Academy, because how things happened last year,” Carter said. “But I know we’re playing Hampton too, so I’m excited about that. They’re a newer school and new to our region.”
But then his top three comes full circle.
“Definitely Newton is in that list,” he said. “They’re the only 7A team we’ll go against, and it’s way bigger competition for us than anyone else on our schedule. We know last year was a tough loss, but there’s always motivation. If anything, we’re going to bring more energy because of that score. We usually get that jump start after Newton anyway, win or lose.
“They jumpstart our season, and then the goal is playoffs after that.”