It would be easy to look at Newton’s 36-18 win against rival Rockdale County Friday night and call it a playoff tune-up. But Newton coach Terrence Banks will tell you not to believe the hype.
“I definitely don’t know if you can call that win easy,” Banks said. “It was 8-6 at one point in the game, and that way for a while, so it was close for a bit. The Rockdale kids always play hard.”
Eventually playoff-bound Newton would pull away behind the arm and legs of quarterback Myron Middlebrooks. The junior threw for three touchdowns and ran for a score, all in the first half to help Newton build a 29-6 halftime lead.
The Rams would stretch it to 36-6 before Banks called off the dogs a bit, allowing Rockdale to add on a couple of late touchdowns. But overall, it was a performance Banks was pleased with, in lieu of next Friday’s first round Class AAAAAAA playoff matchup with top-ranked Mill Creek.
“There were a lot of good things to be happy about but still some mistakes,” Banks said. “But for the most part, I thought we played well. The most important thing is we have improved a lot the last two weeks, especially on offense.”
Over the last two games, Banks has been intentional about using some of his skill players in more versatile ways on offense. Last week against Shiloh, Newton utilized J.J. Holloman and Jaquan Henderson — Holloman typically plays receiver, while Henderson is a natural safety — at running back. This week, Middlebrooks made a special effort to get Holloman going early in the passing game.
Two of Middlebrooks’ scoring tosses went to Holloman, as Newton began to pull away.
“Any time you get J.J. involved in the passing game early, it’s going to be good for you,” Banks said. “Nobody wants J.J. to beat you, so they’ll double team him and all that, but we feel like we have other people who can get there’s on offense, too.”
After enduring a two-game scoreless streak, Newton has scored over 30 points in the last two contests – an improvement that comes perfectly on schedule as Mill Creek comes equipped with an offense scoring close to 40 points per game and a stingy defense giving up only nine.
On top of that, Newton will have to make the trip to a hostile environment in Hoschton. But that’s something Banks said shouldn’t phase his bunch.
“The good news is that for a majority of our kids, even our freshman and some of the seniors, this is not our first trip into such an atmosphere,” Banks said.
He said he’ll point to his 2014 squad to show his current team that nothing is impossible. In 2014 Newton, a three-loss Newton team went to who many felt was a Valdosta squad that had no chance of losing in the first round.
Newton scored a 27-14 win over the Wildcats at storied Bazemore-Hyder Stadium, and moved on to the quarterfinal round where Etowah ended the Rams’ quest for a state championship.
“At that time we’d never won a playoff game before,” he said. “And we were maybe four minutes and a few plays away from making the final four. So this is not our first time with being told we’re not supposed to win. At some point if you want to reach your goal, you’re going to have to pack your bags and knock off a top four team like Mill Creek, so we just happened to get it in the first round instead of the fourth round. The good news is, if we go and beat the No. 1 team, who else left in the bracket can you be afraid of?”
Banks said it’s been a topsy-turvy season, full of challenges, adversity and injuries. In fact, a handful of Newton players are hobbled now, including defensive captain and linebacker Jeremiah Bundrage. But Banks doesn’t expect any of his players – particularly his seniors – to miss a chance to knock off Mill Creek.
“It’s an opportunity,” he said. “I think we thrive in that underdog role. That’s kind of how we are. That’s how we’ve built our program to where it is now, by getting on the bus and going to Valdosta and Lowndes so that when our kids have these things thrown at them, it won’t be overwhelming. It’ll come to the place where they’ll say at anybody’s house, any time we’re ready to play and win.”