Looming ahead for the Newton Rams is a big football matchup with Shiloh on Thursday with huge region and postseason implications.
Win, and the Rams stick and stay in fourth place in Region 8-AAAAAAA behind Archer, South Gwinnett and, of course, Grayson.
Lose? Well, the fourth place spot becomes up for grabs, and the bright lights of postseason football don’t look as bright anymore.
That wasn’t lost on Newton coach Terrance Banks after Friday night’s 34-0 loss to Grayson — which wasn’t as bad as the final score indicates. Banks acknowledged that, praising his defense for pretty much locking down the state’s No. 3 ranked team and the nation’s No. 8 squad — according to MaxPreps.com — for a full half.
Newton was a muffed punt away from going into the half down only 6-0, armed with the knowledge that it would get the ball back to start the third quarter.
When J.J. Holloman mishandled the punt and Grayson recovered inside the 20, it set the “other Rams” up for an easy touchdown. Banks downplayed the notion that the score deflated his squad, but you have to think some discouragement had to set in.
But Banks was resolute.
“We were okay,” he said. “We kept them out of the end zone for a long time. We just didn’t get the ball on turnovers, and we gave them a turnover. And like I said Wednesday, whenever we win the turnover game, we win the game. If we lose the turnover game, we lose the game.”
Newton did do a lot of things right, though — especially on defense, and especially in that first half. A closer inspection on the performance of Newton’s defense shows the following:
• A Grayson offense that came within just one minute of failing to score a first half touchdown all season.
• A Grayson offense that gained less than 200 first half yards.
• A Newton defensive front seven, led by Darnell Jeffries and Jeremiah Bundrage, that recorded several tackles for loss and quarterback pressures.
After Friday’s game, Jeffries got into a little of the theory behind his team’s impressive first half performance.
“We were going with a three-man front with twist game and linebacker stunt action,” Jeffries said. “We felt like we knew what we had to do, particularly to stop the run. We had the bye week off, and we drew it up on the chalkboard, then we went out and produced it on the field.”
The Grayson offense didn’t really get rolling until the second half when fatigue and, perhaps a little frustration, started to settle in. So looking ahead, the defense isn’t the problem for Newton.
Here’s the bigger issue: An offense that has scored a paltry 13 points in its last three games, and that in one game against South Gwinnett back on September 30. That’s after the Rams were putting up 35 points per game during the first five contests.
It was hard to pinpoint one particular offensive problem that was worse than another against Grayson. There was an assortment of blown blocking assignments, multiple false start penalties, some dropped passes and, of course, the fact that Grayson’s defense is pretty stout — arguably the best Newton will see this season.
Jeffries said he still has confidence in his squad’s offensive ability, despite the rough patch.
“I mean it’s pretty tough to watch, but we’ve just gotta help make our offense better,” Jeffries said. “We have to stay up, and we’ve got to keep them up. We have to just take our mistakes, watch film and see what we didn’t do, and then fix it and just keep getting better.”
Part of that process may include a simplifying of things offensively, Banks said. It helps that tailback Nuru Tinch is back from injury. Through five games he had 210 rushing yards with a 5.4 per carry average and two touchdowns. He got a few carries Friday night. And with all of the pieces he has on offense, talent is not the issue.
“Sometimes you can have too many weapons at your disposal,” Banks said. “We need to solidify some things and stick with it. We need to hone in on our sets and our personnel and work with it.”
Shiloh (2-6 and 1-2 in the region) will come into Sharp Stadium on Thursday with a defense that’s giving up almost 35 points per game, so the Rams offense should have a chance to get well on offense this week.