COVINGTON, Ga. — These are the ones that, no matter what you say, they still hurt.
No. 3 Archer 20, Newton 19.
The Rams squandered a 12-0 lead during a rare Saturday afternoon kickoff, and lost an opportunity to stick a huge feather in its Region 8-AAAAAAA cap by knocking off one of the two top 5-ranked teams remaining on their schedule.
Instead, Newton will have an extra week to sit and stew over this one, thanks to a bye week Friday before No. 1 Grayson comes to town on Oct. 20.
When one looks back on this loss, it will be hard not to do so without asking a bunch of “what ifs.”
What if Newton kicks the extra point on its first two touchdowns instead of electing for two-point conversions?
What if the Rams give Victor Pinedo the opportunity to try a 34-yard field goal on 4th and 4 at the Archer 17 late in the third quarter, after a long, methodical Newton drive chewed up clock and the Rams’ defense limited the Tigers for most of the night?
And what if Newton quarterback, Myron Middlebrooks doesn’t go down with an injury (some say shoulder, but no official word) in the second quarter that was severe enough to where he was forced to trade his shoulder pads in for an ice pack?
Middlebrooks could not be found on the sidelines after halftime. But his coach, Terrance Banks, was seen apologizing to as many of his players as he could find right, right before he joined his team in swaying to a subdued version of their alma mater song in front of the band.
“It’s my fault,” Banks said to several players, while patting hard on his own chest.
With one Ram in particular, he stopped him in his tracks, grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a straightforward gaze and more self-deprecating talk of the not-so-humorous variety.
“If you want to be mad at someone for this, be mad at me,” Banks said. “This wasn’t your fault. It was on me.”
When asked directly about his role in the Rams’ loss, Banks didn’t shy away from placing blame on himself.
“I should’ve went for a field goal, and if I hit an extra point instead of going for two, it would be 21-20 and (Archer) would’ve had to kick a field goal. If I went for the field goal, it would’ve been 22-20. I made bad coaching decisions. The kids played their heart out.”
The decision to spurn the third quarter field goal attempt turned doubly costly. Sophomore quarterback Neal Howard, in relief of Middlebrooks, threw a pass to a crossing Jerrol Hines. But it was slightly behind him, and Hines dropped it on fourth down.
Five plays later, Archer quarterback, Carter Peevy hooked up with Jelani Baker on a 49-yard scoring strike at the 1:57 mark of the third quarter that gave Archer the lead for good.
From there, both teams traded offensive drives that would fizzle out, until Howard heaved a pass into the hands of an Archer defender with under two minutes left in the game. The interception sealed Newton’s fate in a game that, early on, looked to be a bit of a coming out party for the Rams.
After winning the coin toss, Newton elected to receive the ball. It opened with a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive, utilizing an up-tempo offensive pace that gave them the 6-0 lead at the 8:43 mark of the first quarter, after missing on their first 2-point try. Middlebrooks scored the touchdown on a one-yard keeper.
Banks has shown a penchant for going for two after his team scores the game’s first touchdown. He says it’s something that is a major thread in his overall coaching fabric.
“It’s part of our philosophy,” Banks said. “If we can get up 8-0, how does that affect the other team? At what point do they become self conscious about going for two themselves? It didn’t work this week.”
It didn’t stop him from trying it again, though.
The Newton defense got the ball back to Middlebrooks and company in short order, when Elija Godwin hit an Archer receiver after the catch, jarring the ball loose from him and creating a bit of a tip drill phenomenon that Rod Kirkland capitalized on.
Kirkland snagged the ball out of the air and carried the interception about 20 yards to the Archer 5-yard line. But a penalty brought it back to the Tigers’ 22. Five plays later, Nuru Tinch plunged in from one yard out to extend Newton’s lead to 12-0 with 5:22 left in the first quarter.
Enter Newton’s second two-point conversion attempt, this time out of the swinging gate formation. Tinch tried to muscle in on the play but was stopped just short of the goal line.
“We felt like we saw on film where other teams had scored on swinging gates, and we thought we could,” Banks said. “Then they got the two offsides penalties and we had the ball down at the one. We just thought we could do something different to get in there.”
After both teams had a couple of stalled drives, Archer would get on the board first when Emmanuel Michel scored from five yards out, capitalizing on a 65-yard run by Semaje Banks on the previous play, to cut Newton’s lead to 12-7 in the second quarter.
Then Peevy linked up with E.J. Walker on a pretty 28-yard fade route down the right sideline that put Archer up 13-12 with just 13 seconds left. It appeared Newton would go into the half trailing, until Godwin took the ensuing kickoff return 90 yards to the house, giving the Rams a 19-13 lead.
Middlebrooks went out of the game on Newton’s next-to-last offensive possession of the first half. The damage to what appeared to be his shoulder area may have happened when he was sacked on a 2nd and 9 play during that aforementioned series. Whatever the case, the Rams’ senior leader was done for the day. And after the game, Banks didn’t have any information on him, yet expressed confidence in his backup.
“Neal Howard came in and did everything he was supposed to do,” Banks said. “He was a young man thrown into battle. He played excellent. If Myron can’t go, we have full confidence in Neal. It’s next player plays, and our guys know the circumstances. So you won’t hear us making any excuses going forward.”
You likely won’t hear Banks apologizing for his two-point conversion philosophies either. When asked if it was something he would re-think after the negative results Saturday, he bristled a bit, vowing not to overreact after one tough game.
“We’ll talk about it,” he said. “But we’re 5-2. You don’t get to game eight and reinvent the wheel.”
As earlier stated, Newton will get next week off, while Archer and Grayson lock horns in a Class AAAAAAA showdown between what will likely be the Nos. 1 and 3 teams in the state.
And Banks would not pretend that Saturday’s game wouldn’t be on his mind during the off week which happens to fall on the same week as Newton County Schools’ fall break.
“We won’t have a game next week, so for me, it’ll probably be on my mind as the guy who makes the wrong calls at the wrong time,” he said. “But at the end of the day, next week will come and you’ve gotta get ready to play the No. 1 team in the state. You can’t dwell on it. We’ve been here before. Gotta claw our way back out of it.”