A week after struggling in its biggest loss of the season, Newton football got back on track from the very first play Thursday night.
The Rams started out in a big way in its 34-21 win over Luella at Sharp Stadium.
On the first play from scrimmage Kemani Pittman hit a wide-open Desmon Billingslea out in the flats, who then took it 74 yards to the house. Just like that Newton was up 7-0 18 seconds into the game.
With the victory the Rams, who lost to Lovejoy 51-6 for the Region 2-AAAAAA championship on Oct. 26, secured a second seed in the playoffs.
"It was what we expected to do tonight, we're just excited for the kids tonight," Newton coach Cortez Allen said. "They did an outstanding job."
Newton's offense showed it was ready to compete to hold on to the home playoff spot, and the defense followed suit.
Nick White led the way with three interceptions and several pass breakups, a feat made even more impressive as he has been playing with a broken hand all season.
"He is just having an outstanding year, and doing a great job," Allen said. "We didn't know what he was going to be like after he broke his hand, and we're just real proud that he kept going."
It was Billingslea coming up again for Newton en route to its second touchdown, this time recovering a Luella fumble on the Lions' 3-yard line. After a short run and then a loss by James Hardeman, Pittman ran in Newton's second score from 6 yards out for a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter.
It was the first of two scores to lead to touchdowns for Newton, which had another on an interception return for a score.
Newton, however, turned it over first as Hardeman broke off a 25-yard run before losing control of the ball.
Luella recovered on the Rams' 35-yard line, and from there used a 22-yard run and a big personal foul penalty to work their way toward the end zone. Lions quarterback Jared Hendricks rolled out and found Jaylon Harris on a 1-yard TD pass to break the Rams' shutout hopes with 6:24 left in the second quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff Aaron Pierce had a big return, which unfortunately ended in what appeared to be a serious shoulder injury with 6:15 left in the second quarter, bringing the game to a halt for around 10 minutes before being escorted off the field.
After play resumed, Newton couldn't get anything going offensively. But that was where the defense took over.
Nick White had a 25-yard interception return to make it 21-7 with 3:54 left in first half. On Luella's next possession, White had another interception.
On that drive, after a play in which personal foul penalties got a player form each team ejected, Pittman threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Hawkins for 10 yards and a 27-7 lead after the extra point was blocked. The Rams had another player ejected from the game midway through the first half, leaving them without three players from Thursday night for this week's upcoming game.
The Rams struck quickly again in the second half, starting things with an onsides kick. After recovering the ball on Luella's 35, the Rams had little trouble going the rest of the way to the end zone. They used a key 11-yard run on fourth down and a 13-yard TD run by Hardeman to make it 34-7 with 8:58 left in third quarter.
White got his third interception with 2:13 left in third quarter on Newton 8-yard line, but it couldn't convert another score.
Luella rounded out the scoring with two TD passes, the first coming for 21 yards with 9:53 left, and the second on a 20-yard pass from Hendricks to Aaron Davis with 1:21 to play. After the two-point conversion Luella made the score closer than it was for the final margin.
Newton finishes out the regular season on the road Friday at Morrow before starting the playoffs at Sharp Stadium on Nov. 16.
"We've got to take care of business against Morrow next week and use it to tune up."