COVINGTON, Ga. — The non-region season is over for the Newton Rams after Friday night’s tough 26-23 loss to Westlake in a game where the Rams led by two scores in the last quarter, but fell to a 22-yard field goal as time expired, dropping its record to 2-3.
Newton coach Terrance Banks has maintained the notion that non-region play is simply a tool to help his team get ready for the region tilts that determine playoff seeding. With that in mind, we’ll take a look at five things we learned from Newton’s Friday night heartbreaker to Westlake, before we look ahead to the Region 8-AAAAAAA opener with South Gwinnett this week.
1. Special teams matter. A name you don’t hear often is Maleek Robbins. He’s Newton’s punter, and he was absent last week in the Rams’ loss to Buford. In that game, Newton sort of handicapped itself by giving the Wolves the short field because it couldn’t get off a decent punt in Roberts’ absence. This week, the importance of Roberts’ presence was felt. Although Newton’s undoing came by way of constantly surrendering big yardage plays at inopportune times, the reason why Westlake needed those big yardage plays to score is because of the way Roberts’ punts were flipping the field. It was one aspect of a pretty strong showing for the Rams’ special teams unit. Another big play happened when Newton blocked a punt that turned into a safety and gave the Rams a chance to get the ball back and ice the game. But on the flip side, a bad snap that flew over Roberts’ head gave Westlake the ball in prime field position which eventually turned into a momentum swinging touchdown.
While we rave on and on about skill positions at the high school level, don’t let anyone make you think that special teams don’t matter in high school football.
2. Red zone woes seem to be this offense’s weakness right now. Coach Terrance Banks keeps talking about it. “You’ve got to be able to score in the red zone in order to win games,” he said during the postgame talks Friday night. He also said it against Buford last week and in the Eastside loss two weeks before that. That’s because in each of Newton’s three losses, a failure to convert red zone trips into points — preferably touchdowns — turned out to be a key element in those defeats. Maybe the biggest example of that Friday night came when Thomas fumbled inside the 1-yard line as Newton looked ready to put the game away. This on a drive that started at its own 10. Yet because of the turnover, Newton came away with zero points. Two possessions later, Westlake would draw to within a touchdown of taking the lead. Enough said.
3. Quarterback LT Stowers has endured a full range of emotions in the non-region. From competing for a starting position with Neal Howard, to literally trading every series with Howard in the Eastside game, to being named the starter and going on the road, learning how to compete in the atmosphere that is Buford High School and now figuring out how to bounce back from making a few mistakes, along with the rest of his team, that arguably cost Newton The game. It’s a learning process for the young man with the big arm, and to his credit, from what we’ve seen, he’s handled everything thrown at him with poise, confidence and humility. Here’s hoping that things will smooth out for him as region play begins next Friday.
4. Adarius Thomas always seems to find the big play. While dissecting the play of the quarterbacks and praising the wide receivers’ skill, it may be easy to overlook the fact that senior running back Adarius Thomas may be Newton’s most consistent weapon offensively. Each time Thomas has touched the field this season, he’s broken off at least one huge chunk of yardage, most times leading to a score. He did it against Buford last week. He did it again Friday night against Westlake when he ripped off a 66-yard touchdown run off tackle. It was part of an unofficial 26 carries for 177 yards. If nothing else can be counted on from week to week, it’s almost become a given that Thomas is going to give you at least one big play.
5. Newton’s biggest enemy has been Newton. Honestly, the only game where you could at least make a bit of an argument that the Rams were just flat outmanned is the Buford game. But even that’s a stretch. The Wolves executed better, and with the exception of their behemoth offensive line, it really wasn’t that much of a mismatch. Friday night, Newton went toe-to-toe with a team that went toe-to-toe with powerhouse Grayson. As much as fans may not want to hear it, coach Terrance Banks is right. His team is close. And more times than not, it’s penalties and turnovers that become the Rams undoing. You just have to wonder if and when they can get out of their own way.