The Newton Rams showed that old habits die hard as Friday’s football game against Heritage was filled with turnovers and penalties, much like their previous games this season.
Both teams struggled with mistakes throughout the night, but it was the Rams that finally prevailed with a 34-28 win in Sharp Stadium on homecoming night.
“All summer long and back in the winter, we really tried to push our kids to the limit, and our motto has always been ignore the circumstances,” said Newton assistant coach Camiel Grant. “They really believe in that, and they bought into it, and they just kept fighting.”
The Patriots began the game turning the ball over on downs as Caleb Pruitt’s pass in the end zone was incomplete on fourth down. The Rams took over at their own 22-yard line, but a Myron Middlebrooks pass was picked off on second down and returned by Anthony Cook to the end zone for a pick-6 to put Heritage up 7-0.
The Rams quickly responded, however, with a 20-yard touchdown pass by Middlebrooks to Adarius Thomas to tie the game with 5:35 left in the quarter. After Heritage failed to score on their next possession, Newton got the ball back, but a Middlebrooks fumble on first and goal led to the Rams’ second turnover in the first quarter. Heritage ran the ball all the way back to Newton’s end zone, but an illegal block call on the Patriots rescinded the score, keeping the game tied 7-7.
Newton appeared to gain some offensive momentum at the start of the second quarter, notching four first downs to get down to the Patriots’ 13-yard line. Penalties then began to step in, as a false start brought the Rams back to the 18, and an offensive pass interference call negated a touchdown pass to Nuru Tinch.
Heritage got the ball back, but Adrian Carr intercepted a Pruitt pass to give the Rams another chance to score. This time, they took advantage, as a Middlebrooks pass to Tinch put Newton up 14-7, but the lead was short lived as Heritage scored on the next possession to tie the game once again. Heritage grabbed another interception on the next Newton possession but didn’t score as the second quarter expired.
“We had a lot of mistakes, and we talked about it at halftime,” said Grant, who took over as head coach while Terrance Banks tended to a family issue. “We’ve been playing that way for the last couple of weeks, and we have to get that fixed.”
Both teams had turnovers in the third quarter, with the Patriots forcing a fumble by Middlebrooks and Newton’s Khalil Wilcox intercepting another Pruitt pass. But Heritage scored the lone touchdown in the quarter for a 21-14 lead.
Following Wilcox’s interception at the end of the third, the Rams started the fourth with a vengeance, as back-to-back touchdowns scored by Tinch put Newton back up 27-21.
A 5-yard touchdown by Middlebrooks put Newton up 34-21 with just under two minutes left to play, and Heritage answered on the very next possession to cut the lead to six, but the Rams held on for the 34-28 victory.
Tinch was the strongest player on offense, coming away with three out of the five Newton touchdowns. With several players out Friday, including star receiver JJ Holloman, the Rams looked to their running game time and time again throughout the night, with Tinch and Kentavious Terrell leading the way.
“We are on a three [running] back rotation, and all of those guys work well together,” Grant said. “They’re a very close-knit group. We never know from night to night who’s going to be the guy, but Nuru has been patient and waited his turn, and tonight was just an example of him believing in what we do. When his opportunity came, he took advantage of it.”
The Rams will now turn their attention to region play as they are set to face South Gwinnett next week, who is currently 3-1. Newton will have to get control of its errors in order to avoid a region loss.
“The biggest key is to find a way to stop some of these mistakes,” Grant said. “The mental errors, we’ll have to get that fixed. We’re playing good football and we have some talent, but we can’t keep kicking ourselves and knocking ourselves down. Next week, we have to go to work.”