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Why Newton football's early-game miscues didn't discourage coach Camiel Grant
NHS 1-0
Riley Scruggs (16) tossed three touchdown passes to three different receivers to help lead the Rams' 20-19 comeback win over Hapeville Charter Thursday night at Sharp Stadium. - photo by Garrett Pitts

COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton Rams conquered an uphill climb defeating Hapeville Charter 20-19 in comeback fashion at Sharp Stadium on Thursday. 

And despite some sloppy moments throughout, the game's narrow outcome did nothing to change Rams' coach Camiel Grant, Jr.'s mind about his team.

That's because Grant recognized the heart and passion his team exemplified during the hard fought contest. 

“What you see in those [close] situations is what is in them,” Grant said. “And our jobs as coaches is trying to constantly figure out a way to get them to walk in that constantly. They find a way to never let the door close, and they’re going to fight until the end.” 

Newton came back from 13-0 to take a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter. However, down the stretch, the Rams’ defense, famously known as “The Blue Swarm,” had to come up with one more stop. 

Assisted by Newton penalties, Hapeville Charter put together a scoring drive to cut Newton’s lead to 20-19 with 1:52 remaining in the contest. Instead of attempting an extra point attempt, the Hornets elected to attempt a 2-point conversion — an attempt that senior Deion Lewis sniffed out with a pass deflection in the end zone. 

The Rams recovered the ensuing punt, rushed three more times and burned the rest of the clock out. 

When the clock hit zero, Newton was officially 1-0 for the ninth year in a row — the Rams haven’t lost a season opener since 2013. But, it didn’t seem like that would be the case early on.

It took Hapeville Charter just 11 seconds of regulation to claim its first lead of the game. On the opening kickoff, the Rams surrendered an 88-yard touchdown return to give the Hornets the early 7-0 advantage. Then, with 1:33 left in the first quarter, the Hornets extended their lead with a 1-yard rushing score from Demetrious Thomas.

Nevertheless, Grant remained confident in his team’s ability to rebound. 

“I never felt like we were out of the game, because we weren’t being stopped by [Hapeville Charter],” Grant said. “We were doing things that I knew we could correct. And I felt like if we could clean some things up, then the big plays would come.” 

The Rams’ first big play came thanks to a Hapeville Charter special teams miscue.  

After the Hornets’ punter shanked a punt that went just one yard, the Rams took over with 21 seconds to go in the first half at Hapeville’s 24-yard line. Even a 5-yard false start penalty — one of many yellow flags for Newton Thursday night — couldn’t stop it from scoring its first points of the season. 

Junior quarterback Riley Scruggs connected with junior Keon Davis in the left corner of the end zone for a 29-yard score as time expired before halftime arrived. Newton grabbed its first lead of the season on a Scruggs-to-Marquavious Brown connection for a 9-yard score in the early moments of the fourth quarter. 

Scruggs ended the game throwing three touchdown passes, but he also had two interceptions in his first taste of varsity action. 

Offensive coordinator, Lee Brown summed up Scruggs’ overall performance with one line. 

“Heaven and hell are on the same street, just on opposite ends,” Brown said. 

Another special teams blunder at the 8:29 mark of the fourth quarter — this time, a fumbled snap — set up Newton’s final score. 

One play after Newton recovered the fumble, Scruggs connected with junior Marcus Calwise in the right corner of the end zone. Calwise’s touchdown reception extended Newton’s advantage  20-13 advantage. 

Though Hapeville Charter came close down the stretch to tying and possibly winning the game, Calwise’s score was enough for the Rams and their fans to fill Sharp Stadium with celebration.

Defensive coordinator Josh Skelton was proud of the fight Newton showed. 

“It’s good to see the guys overcome adversity throughout the game,” Skelton said. “Anytime you finish like that, I think you’re in a good direction moving forward.” 

Next week, Newton will be right back at Sharp Stadium as the battle for the Newton Cup begins. The Rams and Alcovy Tigers will square off on Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m.