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FOOTBALL: Five things we learned from Alcovy-Newton (VIDEO)
WATCH: Check out our video highlight recap reel from last night's game
Keaton Hambright
Senior running back Keaton Hambright found the end zone late in Newton's 45-0 win over Alcovy Friday night. The lopsided victory allowed Newton coach Camiel Grant to play a good number of guys. -photo by Anthony Banks

Alcovy vs. Newton Highlight Reel

The Newton Rams bested cross-town rival Alcovy 45-0 Friday night in both teams' season opener. Our team caught some of the action in highlight form.

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COVINGTON, Ga. — The best of us sportswriters, analysts and even fans understand that there’s more to gauging the total implications of a football game by just looking at the score. 

Such is the case regarding Friday night’s Sharp Stadium season opener between Newton and Alcovy. It was a 45-0 win for the Rams, but there were a plethora of angles to examine and observe. 

Here are five things we gleaned from Friday night’s cross-county matchup.

1. Both new coaches have their work cut out for them. But for very different reasons. On the surface, Newton’s win looked dominant and overwhelming — and it was. But Grant will be the first to tell you that there’s still a lot to clean up. Newton’s got talent and playmakers galore — always have. The challenge for the Rams will be to continue building a tighter ship where there’s an established culture of honing in on the little things. On-field discipline. Limiting small mistakes that can snowball. Meanwhile, new Alcovy coach Jason Dukes will need to pour all of his coaching and playing experience into the rebuilding project that is Alcovy football. It’s been a long time since the Tigers were a consistent winner, and dismantling a losing culture is hard work. But both men seem more than capable and passionate enough to get it done, given the appropriate time and realistic expectations. 

2. Big players make a big difference. And this is true, whether they’re in the game and on the field or whether they aren’t. Not to try and put an asterisk by the Newton win, because the Rams were clearly the better team. But it must be noted that Alcovy went to battle Friday night without several key playmakers, including leading rusher NaTorien Holloway and arguably two of the team’s top athletes and overall playmakers in Andrae and Adrian Robinson. Both were sidelined Friday night, but the Robinson twins, at least, appear set to return next week against Rockdale.

Holloway is nursing a knee injury, and may miss a couple more games before coming back. If this team was at full strength last night, I’m not saying Alcovy would’ve won it. But I think it definitely would’ve been closer than it was. On the other hand, as much as is said about guys like Nyland Green and Robert Lewis, Jerrol Hines is proving himself to be a major, major cog in Newton’s offensive attack. I said it last week and I’ll say it again today. When Hines is on, it makes an already good Rams offensive extremely hard to stop. 

3. Don’t forget about the defense. When analyzing football, it sometimes becomes easy to get enamored with unpacking offensive potential. But I still am a firm believer that defense wins championships. Newton blanked Alcovy Friday night and held MLK to a garbage time touchdown in the final moments of last weekend’s scrimmage. Green is a 4-star corner. Josh Hardeman is a 3-star strong safety. Tyon Bigby is active coming around the corner in pass rush situations. This as the potential to be a very stingy unit. As for Alcovy, despite the 45-spot Newton hung on them, there were times when the Tigers truly bowed up and showed some grit on defense. One particular time was when Duval Hill, along with several other Tigers, stuck his helmet in to stop a Newton drive on fourth and short. Defensive backs La’Ken Nettles and Jaquez Snell played well and made Newton’s receivers work for their catches and yards at time. And Demetrius Thrower and Cameron Daniels showed their physicality and aggression at linebacker. Definitely some solid building blocks defensively for both teams going forward. 

4. Quarterback play will tell the story for the season. All summer long, Grant has insisted that the starting quarterback job at Newton is Neal Howard’s to lose. That had to feel like music to the senior’s ears after spending much of last year trading time with then-senior LT Stowers. Howard’s got a couple of young talents behind him, including 6-foot-5 sophomore JeVarra Martin. But on Friday, Howard looked in control of the offense on his way to 172 passing yards and three scores with no interceptions. If he can continue to make smart decisions with the football and feed his playmakers, it could turn into a special season for the Rams. 

For Alcovy, the storyline with sophomore MJ Stroud has been well-rehearsed. The converted receiver struggled with Newton’s front seven pressure for much of the night. But he showed some flashes of brilliance with several impressive runs and a beautifully thrown ball over the middle to Mathias Height. Stroud will continue to improve over the season, and as he does — along with the return of injured Alcovy playmakers — so too will the Tigers’ offense. 

5. Special teams need to become more special. Newton came into the season with one of the county’s more proven field goal kickers in Abdiel Valesquez. He was seen routinely hitting kicks from as far as 45 yards out during halftime of last week’s Newton scrimmage. But Valesquez struggled Friday, starting the game off missing an extra point before pulling two 30-something-yard field goal attempts off to the left. He did nail a 21 yarder and settled in on PATs. While Valesquez struggled a bit, Alcovy was breaking in freshman Braxton Crawford. He’s a young guy with great potential, but he had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown Friday while finding himself having to rush a lot of punts, thanks to Newton’s pressure. But, we won’t be too hard on either, because first-game jitters are a real thing. You can bet, though, that shoring up the kicking game will be a focus for both coaches next week.