There’s a big-game feel wrapped up in tonight’s Newton-South Gwinnett football matchup for several reasons.
First, it’s the Region 8-AAAAAAA opener for both schools, and Newton head coach Terrance Banks has made no bones about elevating the importance of region play above non-region games. He calls this the true beginning to the season, as every game from here on has playoff implications for both teams.
Secondly, it’s a chance for both schools to effect momentum. After breaking a two-game skid with last week’s 19-13 overtime win over Heritage-Conyers, South Gwinnett wants to string together a second straight ‘W.’ Meanwhile, the Rams are trying to avoid losing three straight losses for the first time in the Banks era. The last time Newton lost three consecutive games was when it started 0-4 in former coach Cortez Allen’s final season.
Finally, it’s Homecoming week at Newton, which can also bring about some potential distractions as coaches try to keep their teams focused amid all the surrounding hoopla.
The Matchup: South Gwinnett (2-3, 0-0) at Newton Rams (2-3, 0-0). In the second year of coach Steven Davenport’s tenure, the Comets are showing signs of becoming a more well-rounded team. Davenport is attempting to execute a rebuilding job at South Gwinnett similar to what he did in turning the Woodland-Stockbridge program around several years ago. The Comets’ program lost a little steam toward the end of the John Small era, despite making a playoff run in his last season. Davenport’s bunch is already one game away from tying its 2017 win total. Meanwhile, Newton is looking to wash from their mouths the bitter taste of a last-second defeat to Westlake last week Friday, while looking to win its fourth straight region opener.
The When and Where: Friday September 28, 7:30 p.m. at Sharp Stadium, Covington with Homecoming festivities scheduled for halftime.
The Key Players: Adarius Thomas is the reigning Chick-Fil-A Player of the Week after rushing for 180 yards against Westlake last week. He’s been arguably one of Newton’s most consistent offensive weapons, even with an array of skill talent surrounding quarterback LT Stowers in the passing game. Speaking of Stowers, the senior signal caller is still among the top 20 passing yards leaders in Georgia, although he threw a couple of picks last week. Defensively, keep your eye on junior corner DeJuan Brown who’s starting to emerge as a consistent difference maker.
For South Gwinnett, look for a little bit of bruiser ball as the Comets trot out a pair of ball carriers in quarterback Willie Truitt, III and running back Jalen Samuels who average 8.6 and 6.5 yards per carry respectively. South Gwinnett is averaging over 200 rushing yards per game.
Newton wins…If it can shake off any lingering hangover from last week’s heartbreaker and put together a clean game for a full 48 minutes. Talent is rarely the issue for Newton from week to week, and the Rams have enough offensive firepower to outscore South Gwinnett.
South Gwinnett wins…If it plays ball control football, uglies up the game with its rushing attack and can force turnovers and keep the Rams’ offense away from the big play. Newton has shown a little susceptibility to stopping the run at times this season. The Comets will need to take advantage of that if they’ll be successful.
The Prediction: For the last two weeks we’ve picked Newton to win — yes, even against Buford. And it’s not because we’re homers. It’s because we truly believe that a clean-playing, explosive Newton team can play with just about anyone in the state. However, at some point, they’ll have to prove that on the field. Yet, tonight we pick the Rams again in a bounce-back performance as South Gwinnett’s lack of scoring punch — it hasn’t scored more than 19 points all season — will not bode well tonight against a highlight reel Newton offense. Score: Newton 38, South Gwinnett 14.