COVINGTON, Ga. — It’s not officially the start of the football season, but for high school football fans, it’s good enough.
The Newton Rams semi-kicked off its 2017 season by hosting a scrimmage against Class AAA defending state champion Cedar Grove Saturday night, and when it was all said and done, Newton came away with a 28-7 win over the Saints that left coach Terrance Banks pleased with what we he saw.
“The physicality part, I was very proud of,” Banks said. “We were able to run the ball and run the ball a lot. The defense got after it. We made Cedar Grove one dimensional to where they had to chuck it down field a lot, so we were pleased.”
The Saints did have an extremely talented wideout to get it to in the passing game, in junior Georgia commit Jadon Haselwood. And the 6-foot-3 future Bulldog made a pair of impressive catches — one in particular, where Haselwood made a tremendously athletic adjustment to snag a slightly under thrown ball over a Newton defender for a 45 yard gain.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to combat a punishing Newton run game led by UAB pledge Nuru Tinch’s 90 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown, all in the first half. He looked to have no lingering effects from a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for much of 2016.
“It felt good to be out here,” Tinch said. “The atmosphere was good. It was easy out here today, really. And our offensive line did good. They always do. They’re real underrated though, but they’re always out here eating for me.”
It’s the kind of performance Banks had maintained all throughout the offseason that he wanted to see, as he has challenged his squad to be more physical than anyone they would face. And senior quarterback Myron Middlebrooks believes that Saturday’s win shows his team is well on its way to accomplishing that goal.
“I think we did good, especially on the offensive line,” Middlebrooks said. “Coach Banks talks about us being the most physical team on the planet, and I think the way the o-line blocked, and how the running backs demonstrated the ability to get in the hole, one cut and go north and south, I think that showed it.”
The Rams got on the board first after forcing Cedar Grove to punt after a six-play drive stalled. It happened with a physical 12-play, 72 yard drive where only three passes were thrown. The drive culminated with a three-yard touchdown run by Tinch.
Cedar Grove answered when Saints quarterback Xavier Dennis found Georgia football commit Israel Spivey on a 44-yard scoring strike to tie the score at 7 in the middle of the first quarter.
Newton looked ready to answer back on the ensuing drive, but after Gerald Hines caught a screen pass, he was called for a fumble, although it looked like the ground caused the ball to pop loose. Newton’s defense quickly reclaimed possession for the offense, though, when Dejuan Brown stepped in front of a Dennis pass and returned it 17 yards.
The Rams responded with another score, this time with Middlebrooks showing off his acumen as a passer. Middlebrooks hung in the pocket for several seconds, then stepped up, absorbed contact from a Cedar Grove defender while hanging a perfect pass over the middle to Adarius Thomas for a 35-yard touchdown that gave Newton a 14-7 lead with 9:19 left in the first half.
On defense, Brandon Green and Darnell Jefferies were routinely in the Saints’ offensive backfield, and linebacker Cozbi Craig made several key stops that helped stymie Cedar Grove’s attempts to run the ball.
Newton would tack on another touchdown before halftime when Ryan Burton scored from one yard out, after an 18-yard burst up the middle on the previous play, giving the Rams a 21-7 lead at halftime.
The second half featured action mostly from reserves, but promising sophomore quarterback Deondre Glover put up the final points of the game with a 22-yard touchdown scramble that saw Glover run left, then reverse his field to the right where he sprinted to the corner of the end zone, touching off a sideline celebration of varsity players happy for the young signal caller.
It was a feel good moment, all-in-all, for the Rams. But Banks won’t allow it to cause his team to get overconfident.
“We’ve still got a lot of stuff to clean up,” he said. “Penalties and the turnovers. You can’t have turnovers in 7A ball, lining up against good teams and expect to win. But that’s what these scrimmages are for. You identify those things and then get to work.”
Newton will open the regular season on Thursday August 17 when it hosts Drew at Homer Sharp Stadium.