COVINGTON, GA -- The Newton Rams started their season against the MLK Lions with a scrimmage at Homer Sharp Stadium Friday night, winning 28-7. In the process, the Rams gave fans a glimpse of their offense's potential in a game where their receiver corps, in particular, produced the highlights.
Senior quarterback Neal Howard looked sharp and 3-star receiver prospect Robert Lewis grabbed a pair of touchdown passes as Newton sprinted out to a 28-0 lead before the Lions added a garbage time touchdown toward the end.
Jerrol Hines provided the game's first big play when he burst out of the backfield for a 37-yard run after a screen pass from Howard. Quincy Cullins set the Rams up in scoring position at the 11-yard line with two five-yard carries.
Howard was then able to find Lewis in the back of the end zone for what appeared to be a touchdown with four minutes left in the quarter, but the catch was out of bounds as Lewis just missed getting his left food in bounds. The promising drive ended without points as Abdiel Valesquez came up short on a 39-yard field goal attempt at the 2:31 mark of the first.
The Rams defense showed it came to play, however, starting on the ensuing MLK drive, by stopping the Lions in a series that ended in a sack. Howard then engineered a quick scoring drive that ended when he found Lewis again -- this time on a deep post route -- for a 45-yard touchdown for the first score of the game.
“I heard them they say ‘bail,’” Lewis said. “I was running full speed, and then I hit him with a quick post – a deep post -- and I was open. The safety was nowhere to be found.”
Howard continuously made sure his star receivers were in the best position to make plays, and Howard's backup, sophomore Jevarra Martin saw time in the second half, and Lewis said he trusts both of them to get the job done behind center.
“I think both of our quarterbacks can take us to where we want to go if you ask me,” Lewis said. “We got a lot to work on though, but I’m really confident in both of my quarterbacks.”
MLK used its next drive to try and respond to the Rams before the game got out of hand early. Newton's defense was able to snuff out the Lions' run game on the drive, forcing a fourth-and-short.
Trying to gain the short-yardage, the Lions were stopped by a big hit by Rams’ Melachi Willams, bringing the Newton crowd to its feet.
With two minutes left in the second quarter, Lewis took a hand-off and, after sifting through the gaps, was able to take it 37 yards for the Rams’ second touchdown of the game.
The half ended with Newton threatening to score again, but unable to punch another touchdown in before the half, keeping the halftime score at 14-0 in a game played with eight minute quarters.
In the second half, the third quarter saw running back Josh Hardeman proving his NewTen top 10 player status.
After a trio of runs totaling 37 yards to start the half, Hardeman set up a Rams drive at the 40-yard line. With six minutes left in the third quarter, Diondre Glover scored on 45-yard pass from Howard where he bodied the MLK defensive back to grab the catch, pushing the Rams' advantage to 21-0.
First-year head coach Camiel Grant’s diverse offense pleased him.
“If I'm a defensive coordinator, I've got to make some decisions about how I want to play those guys when they're on opposite sides of the field,” Grant said. “Do you want a single guy up? How do you want to roll your coverage, and things like that? And for our quarterback, he understands that both of those guys are dynamic. He's not favoring one or the other. He's going to throw the ball to whatever the coverage dictates. It makes it difficult, I think, for people to prepare.”
It wouldn’t be long before the Rams scored again – nearly a minute to be exact – after Williams picked off a Lions pass and took it nearly 40-yards before being brought down at the one-yard line. Cullins, who finished the night with 11 yards -- then ran the ball in for a score bringing the lead to 28-0.
The combination of Hines – who totaled 47 yards and a score – and Hardeman, who had 43 yards of his own kept MLK’s defense off balance all night.
MLK scored its lone touchdown in response to Newton's only turnover of the game.
Without being able to get comfortable in the run game or through the air, MLK was fighting an uphill battle the entire contest, thanks to Grant's prepared defensive unit.
"For us every week, no matter who we're playing is always about stopping the run," Grant said. “We didn't do a whole lot of game-planning for this. And I'm sure they didn't do a whole lot either, coming into a fall scrimmage. But for us, it's just about being disciplined in your fits. Whatever calls we're making, we want to be gap-sound and get guys to where they're supposed to be.”
The Rams may have downplayed the game as a scrimmage, but the team -- Lewis in particular -- saw their performance and as a good sign heading into Friday's regular season opener against Alcovy.
“It's great to change from last year,” Lewis said. “It's been a different outcome. We’re coming harder this year. We worked too hard in the summer to have the same year as last year.”