SNELLEVILLE, Ga. — Newton shrugged off a sluggish start and got a big night from senior quarterback, Myron Middlebrooks and junior tailback Adarius Thomas on its way to a workman-like 30-8 win over Region 8-AAAAAAA foe South Gwinnett in the region opener for both teams.
It was a solid win, given the fact that the only other team to defeat South Gwinnett by more than a touchdown was a hot Brookwood team. And although the Comets (1-5, 0-1) have just one win on the season, Rams coach Terrance Banks cautions to not allow that stat to tell the story of how good a team Newton defeated Friday night.
“That’s not a bad team,” Banks said. “Not with those kind of guys they’ve got over there. The whole d-line is going to play FBS football next year. You’ll watch them on your favorite school’s team on Saturdays. So this was definitely big, man. First game of region play. Our guys were tough and prepared and I’m proud of the response those kids had tonight.”
Middlebrooks unofficially threw for 189 yards on 14-of-21 passing with four touchdowns and no interceptions. That gives him 112 pass attempts without a pick this season. Coming into the game, he was completing passes at a 61 percent clip.
Middlebrooks gave much of the credit, for Friday’s game and the efficient passing performance so far this season, to his young corps of wideouts.
“It’s great that those guys can make those plays,” Middlebrooks said. “They’re young, but still learning. They have great ability. They’re shifty and not stiff. They know how to get in and out of blocks and stuff, and they can get up field.”
Such skill was on full display during Newton’s first scoring drive. After Newton’s first two drives were bogged down with penalties and bad snaps, the Rams found the end zone on their third drive when Middlebrooks found Mike Mathison wide open across the middle of the field for a 24-yard scoring strike that gave Newton a 6-0 lead at the 5:03 mark of the first quarter.
South Gwinnett tried to answer with a long drive of its own, but the nine-play march was stopped short after Newton halted the Comets on a 4th and 3 pass play that gained two and a half yards.
Newton’s defense stiffened again, forcing a South Gwinnett three-and-out, and the Rams responded with a 17-play, 98-yard drive that was capped by Jerrol Hines’ seven yard touchdown reception that stretched Newton’s lead to 13-0 with 3:45 left before halftime.
On that drive, Nuru Tinch had gains of eight and 16 yards. It would be the most action he would get Friday night, as Banks sat his star tailback in the second half with what he said was an upset stomach.
“We’ve got lots of stuff going on back at the school with stomach viruses and stuff,” Banks said. “We thought he was good, but he had some symptoms at half time. So we sat him. We know what (Adarius Thomas) can do.
Thomas helped fill the void with his 70 rushing yards on 14 carries and four catches for 71 receiving yards and a score he tacked on late in the game. Thomas said he was proud to be able to deliver when called upon.
“It feels good to help my team and contribute,” Thomas said. “It’s our first win on the board (for region play). That always feels good.”
Newton’s 13-0 lead would take them into halftime, and kicker Victor Pinedo added a 19-yard field goal to climax Newton’s first drive of the third quarter.
South Gwinnett finally found the scoreboard late in the third quarter when quarterback Antwon Hunter hooked up with Amin Hall for a 60-yard scoring toss, cutting Newton’s lead to 16-6. But Jefferies and company would make sure the Comets’ momentum would be short lived.
After that touchdown, South Gwinnett would find little offense the rest of the way. And Newton tacked on two more scores — one, a 27-yard strike to Jerrol Hines that gave Newton a 23-8 advantage, and the other, a 21-yard toss to Thomas that provided the final margin with 4:52 left in regulation.
The win raised Newton’s record to 5-1 and 1-0 in region play, and marked the third straight region opener the Rams have won.
Afterward, Banks couldn’t stop raving about how pleased he was with his team’s performance, fresh off a 48-17 win at Heritage and just two weeks removed from the 57-0 debacle at No. 2 Lowndes.
“I tell our kids three things: Play the next play, it don’t matter what happens — get better, and your response to whatever happens to you determines the outcome,” Banks said. “We lost to Lowndes, but since then, they forgot about it and they’ve just played the next game and the next play ever since. I love these boys and I’m very proud of them.”
And he’s also ready to see if his bunch can redeem themselves against another ranked opponent when No. 3 Archer (5-0, 0-0) comes to town next Saturday after a bye week this past Friday.
Banks says there will be no need for a lot of rah-rah and hype speeches for that one.
“We don’t have to, because we know we don’t get any respect,” he said. “Not from the AJC, no coaches poll, nobody who writes for all these outlets. Check on Thursday. It’ll be Archer plus 20, because they’re No. 3 in the state and we got blown out by Lowndes. That’s all they’re gonna be talking about, so I don’t have to tell my boys anything. They’re gonna be ready to go.”