The Newton Rams’ football season comes down to tonight’s game. Win and it has a chance to make the playoffs. Lose and it’s over.
"The mindset here is unique," Newton coach Nick Collins said. "As I have said before, no one in our program has been in a playoff hunt so there is not the urgency that I would like to see from the kids or the community. The thing that we have done is not talk playoffs but about competing well."
The Rams (3-6, 2-4 Region 2-AAAAA) will face a Luella team (6-3, 3-3) that also has playoff aspirations. If the Rams win, they will own the tie-breaker over Luella but will need some help from Stephenson which plays Douglass. If Douglass falls and the Rams win, Newton gets the final playoff spot.
The Rams will line up to face a team with similar tendencies. Both teams run the ball the majority of the time, but Collins said he will open up the passing game if he has the opportunity.
"Luella is a lot like us; they are going to do what they feel is necessary to win and after looking at what we do, I would think that they are going to try to run the ball right at us and force us to compete with their large offensive line," he said. "Last week we were forced to throw the ball in situations that we did not want to, which caused the clock to stop and gave Union Grove more time to score. Defensively I expect them to pressure us up front."
For the Rams to be successful, they will need to be solid up front. The offensive line has been banged up but Collins expects to get some of his skill players back tonight and that may make a difference in the passing game.
"It’s a must for us to have more balance and how much we throw will depend on or injuries up front and field position," Collins said. "We have a few more healthy bodies at wide out and we hope to be able to use them. Turnovers are the key to winning, and we cannot turn the ball over."Quarterback Demetrius McCray has shown the ability to move the ball in the passing game and possesses the poise to keep his team in the game provided the Rams don’t turn the ball over. Last week he threw more than at any point in the season but Collins said the ideal situation is to keep the ball on the ground and win the time of possession battle. If McCray throws a lot early tonight, it will mean the Rams are trying to come from behind and that’s not when they are at their best.
The difference between this year’s team versus Collins’ 2007 squad is measurable and can be seen in both its record and how the team plays. It’s no secret Newton plays in the toughest region of the three local high schools, but he refuses to use that as an easy out as to why his team is where it’s at. After all, it’s only year two under Collins’ tenure and the first under new principal Roderick Sams. The reality is the Rams have a chance to play another day. Tonight they will get an opportunity to do their part and hope for some help.
"We have to play lights out defense first, and second we have to control the tempo of the game and be able to throw when we want," Collins said. "The playoff scenario for us is pretty simple. We win and Stephenson wins, we are in and I can’t tell you how much it would mean to our program."