Now it counts for real.
Newton (2-1) will take on state powerhouse Tucker (3-2) in what looks to be a instant classic on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Tucker is stacked with talent on both sides of the ball, especially on defense. At linebacker, the Tigers have Auburn commit Elijah Sullivan. On the defensive line is UGA commit Jonathan Ledbetter, and at cornerback is Kansas State commit Yaquis “Duke” Shelley.
“They got D-1 cats all over defense. They’ve got a D-1 corner, D-1 d-lineman. Elijah Sullivan, the linebacker, he can do so many good things. He’s a heck of a ball player,” Terrance Banks, Newton head coach, said. “We just are gonna try to use Tucker’s weakness against them, which is their strength. They do a lot of pressuring the quarterback to make you make mistakes. They basically rely on their front six to be better than your front five, and for the most part that’s usually what’s true. But we’re gonna try to use that notion against them and try to find ways to get the ball on the perimeter. Because they have a lot of kids who are great athletes and they play a lot of plays, the question I have for Tucker is, ‘Can they play 140 plays in one night?’”
On offense, Banks hopes to use the Rams’ fast-paced offense to counter Tucker’s athletes.
“We’re going to try to go uptempo and use the things that we do naturally in our offense as something that can help us, which is also a strength of Tucker which is getting to the quarterback. It could be feast or famine,” Banks said. “That’s the best way for us to attack them, because they’re very disciplined but they’re a pressure defense so we wanna do things that we think can offset that. Hopefully, since they like to come at us from various angles, we’re gonna try to do stuff and move kids around to come at them from various angles.”
For Rams’ signal caller Romario Johnson, Banks says not much will change. Coming off a 17-13 loss to Lowndes, who like Tucker runs a wing-t offense, Banks says that some of the things they did against Tucker on defense will carry over.
“It’s the same thing it was against Lowndes’ wing-t offense. Tucker’s got more speed than Lowndes per se, but you wanna make them throw. They’ve got some guys that can throw the ball too,” Banks said. “Ledbetter, the defensive lineman, also plays tight end. He is a wide body at tight end. If you’re forcing Tucker to throw the ball and if you’re forcing Tucker to run between the tackles I think that’ll be key for Newton. I’m impressed by the way my defense played against Lowndes. I knew it was a matter of time before kids started to get comfortable with the scheme. Being able to play against Lowndes and having a week off to hopefully get ourselves healthy and see another wing-t team, we’ll have a lot of carry over from Lowndes. I think that’ll help us.”
Banks says that he told his team, from the coaches to the trainers, ‘No matter what happens they play the next play.’ It’s their motto.
“I think in that first half against Lowndes we had some key drops and a few overthrows and I think both of us (Banks and Romario Johnson) kind of got hung up on it,” Banks said. “We should have both just played the next play.”
Tucker isn’t just strong on defense, they’re strong on special teams too. Shelley is one heck of a returner, and Banks knows it.
“Duke Shelley is phenomenal. He plays corner as well. As the Drake song says, the kids tell me he can go “0 to 100 real quick,” and we don’t wanna see it,” Banks said. “I’ll be honest with you, unless they gonna put him on the front row on kickoff, we’re not gonna kick the ball to him.”
Rams’ special teams player of the year Deandre Huff is no slouch as a returner. Banks admits that he wouldn’t put the game in either of their hands.
“We believe in our defense strongly. We crossed the 50 nine teams against Lowndes and didn’t score a lot of those times and went for it on fourth down. Our defense had to come right back on the field and our defense held,” Banks said. “We don’t have a problem with letting Tucker start the ball on the 35-yard line and drive the ball for 65 yards every time. I trust my defense and I’m gonna let them show up and show out and not allow Duke Shelley to beat us.”
This is a big game for both teams, and Banks wants all of Covington to come out and support.
“I hope everybody comes on out. This is one of those Friday nights where you’ve got Tucker and you’ve got Newton. It don’t get too much more exciting than this,” Banks said. “This is a playoff atmosphere. Both teams are confident, first game in the region so I think that it would be an awesome football game to experience. So if you haven’t been to a game all year, you’re wondering what to do on this weekend with the other teams off and out of town. It’s a great time to be at Sharp Stadium on Friday.”