The Newton High varsity football team had three goals entering the season and, despite a 3-5 start to the year, the Rams can still complete their third — and most important — goal Friday night on the road with a win over Luella.
The Rams (3-5, 2-2) travel to Locust Grove to take on the Lions (5-4, 3-2) with a playoff berth on the line. Newton could secure a spot in the postseason with a win over the Lions, or leave its destiny up to fate with a loss.
"Practice has been up and down this week, but we’ll see how the rest of the week goes," Banks said. "A win this week would clinch a playoff spot for us. We started the year with three goals. We’re 0-2 in that regard right night, but the most important goal is still out there and that’s a state championship. We still have the possibility to be the No. 2 seed in the region and host a playoff game. That’d be huge for us.
"Before any of that happens, however, we still have to make the playoffs," he said. "I only know one way to guarantee an extra week at the end of the season, and that’s to win."
The Lions have been known more for their staunch defense this season, creating 13 fumbles while taking away 11 passes from opposing quarterbacks.
One of Luella’s finest defensive performances came against Rams rival Rockdale County. Against the Bulldogs, Luella forced six turnovers, including four interceptions, leading to three defensive scores for the Lions.
Banks said that while the Lions’ defense may be the key to their success, you can’t overlook Luella’s threats on offensive.
"Their quarterback (Donald Hammond) has a strong arm," Banks said. "They can create explosive plays. That’s our weakness on defense right now. We’re not communicating and tackling as effectively as we were earlier in the season. Luella’s offense can create explosive plays, so we have to limit those. If we can stop those, I think our defense will do just fine."
Banks believes that his offense, which has put up over 20 points per game in its last three contests, can have success against the Lions’ vaunted defensive unit.
"They’re physical," Banks said. "Their defense is definitely the key to them. They get to the ball and they know their assignments. They also tackle very well as a team.
"Despite that, if you go back and look at what our offense has done over the last three weeks, it has really come into its own as far as moving the ball up and down the field," he said. "I think we can have some success against them with some of the things that we do on offense. The biggest thing is that when we move the ball up and down the field, we can’t stall out. When we get inside the 5-yard line, we can’t go brain dead. We have done that repeatedly the last three weeks. Whether it be jumping offsides or missing a block, we have got to find a way to put it in the end zone and not hurt ourselves."
Newton reached the red zone four times against Lovejoy last week during homecoming, scoring just 15 points against the Wildcats.
"You don’t know how the game can be affected if we would have just scored those 13 or so extra points in the red zone," Banks said. "We have to do a better job of it."
A win over Luella would be NHS's fifth consecutive victory against the Lions.
"This is a must-win game," he said. "If the other games were must win, this is really a must-win. The kids understand that, so we’re just going to go on and do what we have to do."