GRAYSON, Ga. — If things would’ve ended as well as it started for Newton, we might be talking about an upset here, or at the very least, a hard-fought, four-quarter game that Grayson would’ve felt fortunate to get out of unscathed.
Instead, it was Grayson overcoming a slow start and pushing past Newton, 57-14 in a Region 8-AAAAAAA matchup Friday night at Grayson.
And as has been the case more than once this season, when Newton coach Terrance Banks looks back at the film of this game, he’ll see a litany of self-inflicted wounds and some unforced errors that flipped momentum away from his squad for the rest of the game.
“When you’re playing a team like Grayson that’s a little bit better than you, you have to stay in the game and you can’t make mistakes,” Banks said. “I thought we had a great game plan. You saw how the boys came out. We had a great week of practice.”
The Newton Rams indeed came out of the gates looking upset-minded as they found the end zone first when quarterback LT Stowers connected with Robert Lewis on a 3-yard touchdown pass that gave Newton a 7-0 lead at the 8:23 mark in the first quarter.
“We felt good when we came out and scored on that first drive,” Banks said.
The drive was actually aided by a personal foul call on Grayson that gave Newton new life after Abidel Valesquez missed on a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Newton’s defense was stalwart on Grayson’s first offensive drive of the game, forcing a punt and seemingly giving Newton a chance to extend its lead. However, this is when things began to unravel.
Jerrol Hines muffed the punt and Grayson recovered. But Newton kept them out of the end zone and the Grayson Rams settled for a 24-yard field goal which was shanked, preserving Newton’s 7-0 lead.
After Grayson’s defense forced a three-and-out, quarterback J’Kori Jones threw a pretty ball to Ryan King who beat single coverage down the sideline on a 27-yard scoring strike with 1:21 left in the first quarter.
It wouldn’t take long for Grayson to strike again as an 18-yard gain on the ground by tailback No. 26 set up Jones to find a wide open No. 12 over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Two Grayson possessions later, and it chewed up some clock with an 11-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a Jones-to-Kenyon Jackson connection that netted Grayson a 19-yard score, stretching its lead to 21-7 with 3:38 left before the half.
Newton had what seemed like a golden opportunity to cut Grayson’s lead before halftime as a trick play with a pass from Thomas to Mike Mathison resulted in a 45-yard pickup. Newton went with tempo and Thomas gained 14 more yards, then had a personal foul penalty tacked on which gave the Rams a 1st and 10 at Grayson’s 11-yard line.
But on the very next play, Stowers threw an interception while under heavy pressure, abruptly ending the scoring threat. Grayson would capitalize a few plays later when Jonathan Halyard scampered 18 yards for a score to provide a 28-7 Grayson advantage at the break.
“We knew if we played mistake-free football that it would be a fourth quarter fight,” Banks said. “But we could not stop from doing those things. The safety. Muffed punt. Interception inside the red zone. Those are just things we can’t continue to do. We’ve gotta continue to do a better job of coaching those things up. We are successful when we get players in position to go fast and not be thinking.”
The scoring onslaught continued for Grayson in the second half, as it outscored Newton 37-0 after Newton’s first touchdown, before the Rams from Covington scored again. That last touchdown for Newton came from a Stowers to Mathison connection that netted 19 yards and placed the score at 37-14, Grayson with 5:00 left in the third quarter.
Grayson would tack on three more scores to produce the final tally. But despite the loss that dropped Newton to 3-5 overall and 1-2 in Region 8-AAAAAAA, Banks said he still feels good about the Rams’ playoff prospects. with games against Shiloh and Rockdale remaining and with South Gwinnett still needing to play Archer and Grayson.
“We’re still in the catbird’s seat for the No. 3 seed,” Banks said. “We beat Shiloh, we go to the playoffs, and we have the talent to win games in the playoffs. If we beat Rockdale, we got the No. 3 seed, and then we go to the playoffs somewhere in Forsyth, and then we’re all 0-0, and all bets are off. Let’s go play ball.”
Newton will host Shiloh Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Sharp Stadium.