COVINGTON, Ga. - The Chick-Fil-A Covington Newton Cup, a trophy awarded to the Newton County football team that conquers its crosstown rivals on the field, went home with the Newton Rams Friday night following a 42-7 win over Eastside in an ugly, penalty-filled game that actually, in some ways, raised more questions regarding both teams than provided answers.
But that doesn’t mean we didn’t learn a few things from it. Here are five things we discovered and observed from the 16th installment of the county’s hottest football rivalry.
1. There is certainly no love lost between Newton and Eastside.
There’s program respect, certainly. Head coaches Troy Hoff and Camiel Grant, Jr. get along just fine, and both are highly complementary of the other’s program. I believe it’s definitely genuine. And honestly I think that trickles down to the players as well. I wouldn’t call this a hatred rivalry as much as I would one where these young men just like to beat each other. Many of them have been playing with or against each other since rec ball, so there’s all sorts of familiarity in place, and that just adds to the intensity. There was plenty of jawing and chippiness to go around. But also love shown afterward. Newton comes away with revenge from last year’s loss to the Eagles and county bragging rights. But all that means is that now it’s Eastside that’ll bring the shoulder chip into next year’s game.
2. Newton’s skill players are potentially elite.
There’s a stark difference between role players and difference makers. Every great team has its fair share of both. And while the jury is out for the next few weeks on whether or not Newton can be classified as a great team, we do know that some of the Rams’ talent — especially at the skill positions — have an elite look. One of them, 4-star cornerback Nyland Green, can already be considered as such. He picked off a pass in Friday’s Eastside win, but also showed off potential big-play ability at wideout. Speaking of big-play wideouts, that’s all Robert Lewis has been in this young season. And Jerrol Hines, well, the Week 0 Chick-Fil-A Player of the Week turned in another strong performance Friday. At tailback, Quincy Cullins and Josh Hardeman seem like a two-headed ground game monster in the making. And Hardeman is also a baller at safety. Diondre Glover can’t be forgotten, and defensive lineman Tyon Bigby is a potential monster.
3. Way too many penalties.
I don’t know how many they finished with, but there were a combined 12 penalties for who-knows-how-many yards in the first quarter alone. Many of those penalties killed (or extended) drives and negated big plays. Typically coaches say they like to see the biggest jumps of improvement between weeks 1 and 2. So the sloppy play had to be concerning for both teams. In the spring game, scrimmage and season opener against Alcovy, Newton showed a bit better on-field discipline than in recent years past before taking that step back Friday. Meanwhile, Eastside’s offense stalemated against a fast, aggressive Rams D. But it’s hard to be too hard on teams in that regard this early in the season. And some of those penalties and sloppy play no doubt had to do with the emotions involved in an intense rivalry.
4. Eastside’s going to be alright.
The Eagles have talent. Noah Cook is still one of the best signal-callers in Class AAAA. Terrence Reid is an absolute tank at running back. Jeffery Haynes may end up becoming one of the most electrifying talents in the state when the season is all said and done. The offensive line is big and experienced. But there are some deficiencies that should improve over the course of the season. For starters, basically the entire defensive front seven is new. Once they get that “greenness” off of them, they should be fine. Region 4-AAAA isn’t the strongest, so nailing down a playoff spot shouldn’t be an issue, and Eastside gets top region rival Woodward Academy at home. But most importantly, the Eagles benefit from a tried and true coaching staff that’s been here before. So while some may be sounding the alarm on Eastside’s first 0-2 start since 2005, there are plenty of reasons to relax and still expect these Eagles to challenge for another Region crown.
5. Newton County loves its sports.
Three years ago when I came here, I felt there was a passion for sports in this area that was bubbling just beneath the surface. It was just waiting for someone to uncork it and make it come alive. Now that passion can be more fully seen. Just in case you feel like you haven’t seen it, find some pictures or videos of Friday’s game. The atmosphere and the crowd was like what you’d expect from a vintage South Georgia Friday Night Lights scene. And I think it only shows that the area is primed for a greater manifestation of fandom. Don’t ever lose that passion for your teams, Newton County. Stay fiery.