In a battle of the two remaining undefeated teams in the region Lovejoy (4-4, 3-0 Region 2-AAAAAA) and Newton (6-2, 2-1 Region 2-AAAAAA) met at Twelve Oaks Stadium on Friday night in what will likely determine the region champion, and Lovejoy came away with the 20-16 win.
What turned out to be a bad start for the Rams and an almost ideal start for Lovejoy meant a lot going wrong for Newton and in the first half if anything could go wrong for Newton, it did. Newton’s offense started with a three-and-out to begin the game and that was a sign of things to come for the Rams.
Lovejoy then had two-straight touchdowns – one as a punt return and the other rushing – called back due to penalties. Newton’s defense would force a three-and-out of their own ending with a sack by Teron Holmes.
The Rams’ rushing attack got them in Lovejoy territory, but the drive stalled as Newton attempted to go for it on fourth down and running back Kurt Taylor was stopped for no gain, needing two yards to pick up the first.
Lovejoy’s running game was highlighted by the speed of their backs, but mainly sophomore Zion Custis, who the Rams had trouble with as they struggled to seal off the edge. Fullback Bryce Ross rumbled in for a Wildcat touchdown from eight yards out to give Lovejoy a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
After forcing a Lovejoy interception in the endzone on fourth down, Newton punted on its next two drives, both being three-and-outs.
The Rams offense was sporadic in the first half to say the least, but they managed to get it going on one of their final possessions of the first half. Taylor reeled off a 41-yard and a 15-yard run, eventually getting inside the Lovejoy five-yard line, but on a second down rushing attempt Newton QB Romario Johnson picked up two yards and got injured on the play. Johnson stayed down for a while, but was helped off the field by trainers.
Taylor picked up one more yard before the Rams were forced to go for on fourth-and-one. Taylor was stopped one yard short on the run up the middle and Lovejoy got the ball back with momentum.
Newton’s defense, however, would not let up. After the Wildcats’ barely got out of the endzone on their first rushing play, the Rams’ entire defensive-line broke through to get the safety.
The offense fed off the safety and scored a touchdown on the next possession that was set up first by a big return to the Lovejoy 49-yard line by Deandre Huff and then by a 30-yard screen pass from sophomore quarterback Myron Middlebrooks to senior running back Augustus Murray. Middlebrooks finished off the drive by barrelling in for the score from four yards out to give Newton a 9-7 lead.
Unfortunately for Newton that lead didn’t last.
A 73-yard screen to Marquese Taylor set Lovejoy up inside Newton’s 10-yard line and the Wildcats scored on the next play by a four-yard run from Santo Dunn.
The Rams went into halftime down 13-9. With Johnson hurt, things weren’t looking good.
Newton forced a punt on Lovejoy’s opening drive of the second half, and then the Rams took the ball for a 15-play 80-yard drive capped off by a seven yard touchdown pass from Middlebrooks to Jeremiah Holloman. Newton took a commanding 16-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Newton’s defense forced a punt and got the ball back looking to run out the clock. Middlebrooks converted twice on crucial plays for Newton, once on a third down pass to Holloman and again on fourth down.
The third time wasn’t the charm and Newton turned the ball over on downs at their own 35-yard line with just over three minutes to go.
Three plays later and Lovejoy had the ball at Newton’s 15-yard line threatening to score. For the third time in the game Lovejoy had a touchdown called back due to a penalty that backed them up into a first-and-20. The Rams got a sack on the following play and the Wildcats threw an incomplete pass on second down.
On third-and-25 Lovejoy dialed up a screen play – a play that worked a few times on that night catching Newton over-pursuing – but this time the Rams seemed to know it was coming. Three players attempted to bring down Marques Taylor behind the line of scrimmage, but he broke free and scored the game-winning touchdown.
Newton got the ball back and got to the Lovejoy 46-yard line quickly, but a holding penalty called back another Newton first down and the Rams turned the ball over on downs on 4th-and-25.
Taylor finished the night with 23 carries and 134 yards. Middlebrooks completed 17 of 25 passes with two TDs (One rushing) in relief of Johnson.
The Rams will host Lakeside at Sharp Stadium next week at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.