COVINGTON, Ga. - The Newton Rams made sure Alcovy sophomore quarterback MJ Stroud's first varsity game behind center was a tough one.
Stroud, the 6-foot-2 converted wide receiver, did not have an easy go of things in the first game, nor did the Alcovy defense, nor did the Alcovy crowd, as the Tigers lost 45-0 in their season-opener to Newton High. The loss would represent the second-largest loss to the Rams by Alcovy since losing to Newton 47-0 in 2015 and the sixth straight loss overall.
Meanwhile, Newton's Jerrol Hines put on a first-half show, scoring two touchdowns and gaining 78 all-purpose yards -- a performance that helped the Rams start fast and never looked back.
"It felt good," Hines said about his play. "You know, we had a good week of practice as a team, and you practice like you play, so if you practice hard, you play hard. I practice hard, so when I practice hard, I play hard. You visualize the game and you visualize the plays and the scenarios, and you just go out there and play."
The win allowed Newton head coach Camiel Grant, Jr. to be successful in his first regular season game at the program's helm. But even in lopsided victory, Grant said he saw plenty for the Rams to go back to work on next week in preparation for rivalry game No. 2 with Eastside next Friday.
"We got off the ball well, but we still have to get better at coming under control when we get into those gaps," Grant said. "But the effort and intensity is what we've been preaching to them all winter, all spring, all summer. So that's what we saw. We had great ball get-off."
From the very beginning, it was clear Alcovy would not be able to rise to the occasion. The Tigers' very first drive began with a fumble on the play by Jaquez Snell which was recovered by Newton.
In that first quarter, Stroud threw for just 10 yards, missing his target on four straight passes at one point. The Newton secondary made sure to cover the receivers while the front seven routinely got into the Tigers offensive backfield, making life for the new signal-caller completely uncomfortable. Stroud was able to make a few plays with his feet, as he scrambled for 12 yards in the first half.
Newton, on the other hand, did not necessarily light up the field through the air, but the Rams' receivers and tailbacks made enough huge plays.
In addition to Hines' stellar play, senior tailback Josh Hardeman had 54 rushing yards while junior Quincy Cullins aided the rushing attack with 47 yards of his own. It was just enough ground game to keep the Tigers defensive line on their heels for the entire first half.
Newton senior quarterback Neal Howard showed the kind of command of the offense that Grant spent much of the summer saying he expected from Howard. In the first half, Howard completed six of 10 passes for 97 yards, including a 61-yard rollout pass to Hines for the second Rams touchdown of the game. Howard finished 12 of 22 for 172 yards and three scores.
"Very impressed with Neal tonight," Grant said. "Neal is a very under-control type guy. He's very even-keel and with so many different personalities we have. I think he's the perfect guy to be the leader of this team. He did a good job tonight of getting us in the right protections, and he did a good job of delivering the ball. Neal is the guy that holds the whole thing together, and I'm very proud of him."
Rams kicker Abdiel Valesquez had some issues in the kicking game. He missed the first extra point of the contest, and went wide left on a pair of 30-plus-yard field goals. He finally nailed a 21 yarder at the halftime buzzer to put Newton up 24-0 at the break.
The third quarter began with a 37-yard kick return from Hardeman that set Newton up with good field position at its own 47-yard line. Alcovy’s defense, however, came out with a determined spirit and stopped the Rams' drive on 4th and short, forcing a turnover on downs.
The Tigers' offense then showed a little life when Rontravious Perry burst through the line and around end for a 20-yard scamper.
Then Stroud darted a 23-yard pass down the middle to Mathias Height on a third-and-long situation. But Newton's defense would hold firm and stifle any momentum the Tigers were building.
On the next drive, Howard connected with Robert Lewis for a 10-yard scoring strike at the 2:17 mark of the third quarter to stretch the lead to 31-0.
Starting the fourth quarter, senior tailback Keaton Hambright would see time and make immediate impact. Two 10-yard carries and a 12-yard score less than three minutes into the last stanza, and a Romeo Carson touchdown would put the exclamation point on the rout and give Newton its sixth straight win over the Tigers.
Alcovy’s next game at Rockdale next Friday might offer the Tigers a chance to right the ship and wash their mouths of the taste of their season-opener loss, especially with several missing players expected to return, while Newton will face Eastside next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Sharp Stadium.