COVINGTON, Ga. -- Rain, wind and remnants of Hurricane Irma aside, the Newton Rams will play a football game Friday night. And it’ll be a rather big one, as Newton will travel to fourth-ranked Lowndes. Before we get there, though, let’s look back at some lessons learned from the Rams’ 47-29 win at Peachtree Ridge last Friday.
1. The coming of age of Myron Middlebrooks is real. Newton’s senior quarterback did what seasoned, senior quarterbacks do Friday night. He provided leadership and stepped up to make big time plays in the absence of one of their big time players. The Rams decided to keep senior tailback Nuru Tinch out for the Peachtree Ridge game so he could continue healing from illness. But Middlebrooks did all he could to make sure Tinch’s presence wasn’t missed too badly up in Suwanee. The 6-foot-2 signal caller collected 424 yards of total offense, at times making things look easy against the opposition. Now that we know we can expect that kind of performance from Middlebrooks, just think how much more well-rounded this offense will be down the stretch of the season.
2. Nuru Tinch is that valuable to the Rams’ running game. As awesome as Middlebrooks played last Friday, and as admirable as Adarius Thomas and Ryan Burton’s fill-in games were, you could see there was a little noticeable lack of punch in Newton’s offense without Tinch in the game. He’s a 6-foot, 215-pound man child — the kind of runner that, even if the offensive line doesn’t hit all its blocks, he can still find chunk yardage up the middle or around the end, and through contact. Newton showed that without Tinch, it’s offense is good. But with Tinch and Middlebrooks playing like he did, that offense can become downright lethal.
3. Mistakes and gaffs still a decently large part of Newton’s game. Maybe it was a slight underestimation of a Peachtree Ridge squad that came into Friday 0-3 and outscored heavily. Or maybe there was a little looking ahead to this week at Lowndes. But at times, some of that sloppiness that manifested in the opener against Drew reared its ugly head at Peachtree Ridge. Special teams were a bit of a concern in that Newton gave up a couple of big returns. And the secondary got torched on some long pass plays. Credit some of that to youth and inexperience though, as several younger players played in relief of starters and veterans out with injury. Regardless of who’s inserted in Friday’s starting lineup, though, Newton will need to play mistake-free ball in order to give itself a chance. And given the fact that we just learned Newton County schools are closing for a third straight day, means a deep cut into practice time that should make preparation for Friday interesting to say the least.
4. Coach Terrance Banks isn’t afraid of the Lowndes Experience. He had already sized up the situation in Friday’s postgame interview. Lowndes is one of those rural high school football areas you read about in books and watch on television. Thousands of fans — like 10 to 15,000 packed in a stadium. Entire town shut down for Friday Night Lights. Noisy, intimidating atmosphere packed with fans who know how to make things hard on the opponent. Yet, Banks said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Remember, this won’t be the first upset-minded, Banks coached Newton squad to head to Lowndes. The 2013 Rams’ team — Banks’ first — sauntered out of Valdosta with a 15-14 win. The next year, Newton took the Vikings to the wire again, losing 17-13. And last year was only an eight point setback. Suffice it to say, Banks nor Newton will be intimidated by this opportunity.
5. We still don’t know how good this Rams team can be. Three games played, three fairly dominant performances. But none of them was with a full compliment of healed athletes. As we walked off the field at Peachtree Ridge last Friday, several coaches excitedly rattled off names of players who should be at, or close to, full speed by this Friday. Some of those names include Tinch and perhaps the first glimpse we get of speedster defensive back, Elija Godwin. The kick returner extraordinaire has missed the first three weeks of the season recovering from a hamstring injury he sustained while working to qualify for the Junior Olympics. His return would instantly bolster Newton’s team speed and athleticism — two qualities that will be needed in large supply in order to pull an upset Friday, not to mention success in the gauntlet Region 8-AAAAAAA.