LILBURN, Ga. — When the last play was over and the last whistle blew, many of the Newton Rams players congregated close to their team’s sideline, took a knee and either wept, or stared at the scoreboard in disbelief.
But for four quarters and an overtime period before that, Newton fought. Like warriors. Ultimately, a two-yard Tommy Rogers touchdown run for Parkview and a questionable intentional grounding call against Newton quarterback, Neal Howard on third down, sealed the Rams’ fate, as Newton fell 42-35 to Parkview Friday night in a first round Class AAAAAAA state playoff game.
It was one of those games that, even if you didn’t come rooting for Newton, you’d have to respect the Rams after it.
Whether it was Howard, the sophomore, literally growing into an effective varsity signal caller while hitting big passes on crucial third downs, or junior running back Adarius Thomas becoming a 30-plus carries workhorse running back after Nuru Tinch went down with injury. Or even receiver Mike Mathison, who got blasted on a hit from a Parkview tackler that was called targeting, the Rams showed an uncanny ability to keep bringing the fight to Parkview.
With Mathison, he lay motionless on the turf for about 45 seconds after that big hit, then gingerly walked back to the sidelines, only to came back in the game several plays later to make a crucial third-down grab to keep an eventual scoring drive alive.
In the end, none of these moments equated to a Newton win, but it did help coach Terrance Banks get a fresh dose of perspective about the privilege he as of coaching his kids.
“I can say, I’ve never been more proud, in the five years I’ve been here, to say, at this moment that I’m the head football coach at Newton High School,” Banks said while trying to hold back tears. “Those gentlemen left everything they had on the field tonight. Parkview’s a good football team. But our guys…they left everything they and on that field tonight.”
If there were an ESPN Classic category for high Georgia high school football, this one would’ve been an instant classic, particularly in the fourth quarter and overtime period.
After Newton kicked a pair of field goals to tie the ball game at 28 late in the fourth quarter, Rogers would bolt to the end zone from 30 yards out to give Parkview a 35-28 lead with 3:02 left in regulation, and seemingly slim hopes for a Newton win.
That is until Howard engineered a 10-play, 52-yard drive that ended with him darting a pass to a diving Darnell Jefferies for a four-yard touchdown. It was the Clemson defensive tackle commit’s third catch of the night as a tight end. The extra point tied it at 35 with 15.6 seconds left.
Parkview got the ball first at the start of the overtime period, needing just 15 yards for a go-ahead score. And it happened after the second of a pair of two-yard runs for Rogers ended in the end-zone.
Newton, needing a touchdown to extend the game, also turned to its ground game. Tailback Ryan Burton barreled for nine yards on 3rd and 9 at the 14-yard line, which set Newton up with 1st and goal at the 5.
From there, Burton was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage. Then Howard dropped back and threw a pass to the end-zone that, despite being catchable enough to almost get picked off, was called for intentional grounding.
The penalty pushed the Rams back 10 yards with a loss of down, forcing Newton to convert a 4th and 16 in order to tie the game. Howard got out a screen pass to Burton who turned the corner and headed for the pylon but was stopped two yards short, ending the game.
Burton was in, spelling Thomas who became a workhorse for the Rams, finishing with 31 carries for 160 yards and two rushing touchdowns, along with two catches for 36 receiving yards.
“DeeDee played great, man,” Banks said. “He was exhausted in the fourth quarter. He sucked it up and played hard. He went to work. He played fantastic. Right now, it’s hard. I wish I didn’t have to think about next year. But it’s going to be good having him back.”
Despite the way the game finished, it didn’t start as promising for Banks’ squad.
After Newton’s offense started the game with a three-and-out, Parkview used a pair of chunk plays in the running game to get on the scoreboard first. The first one was a 54 yard pickup by No. 24. Two plays later, and despite a personal foul penalty that set Parkview back, Rogers burst through the heart of the Newton defense for a 33-yard scoring scamper, giving Parkview a 7-0 lead at the 9:10 mark of the first quarter.
Newton failed to get anything going on its second drive of the night, and making matters worse, Tinch went down with an injury after his first carry. Following another three-and-out, Parkview got the ball and started on a 13-play, 78-yard march to the end-zone. The drive was completed when quarterback Fred Payton found Isaiah Lovelace on a perfectly thrown fade route for a touchdown, stretching the lead to 14-0 with 3:36 left in the quarter.
The Rams woke up on their last drive before the end of the quarter, as Howard went to work through the air, completing three of four passes, including a couple of big third down throws to Jerrol Hines and Mathison. Thomas then ripped off runs of 10 and 13 yards, setting him up for a one-yard plunge for a score on the first play of the second quarter.
The extra point was blocked, however, so the score remained 14-6, Parkview.
Parkview would dial up the big play once again, though, as Payton connected with Miles Marshall on a screen pass that went 51 yards. Then on the next play, Payton threw another dart to Marshall who caught it and juked Rod Kirkland in one motion to pick up 19 yards on the play. Two plays later, tailback Christian Malloy walked in the end zone from four yards out, to put Parkview back up by two scores.
Newton immediately responded though, with Elija Godwin streaking down the right sideline, taking the ensuing kickoff 72 yards for a touchdown, making it 21-13, Parkview with 9:50 left before halftime.
Newton’s defense finally stiffened and got a much needed stop when the Panthers went for it on 4th and 2 on the Newton 32-yard line with a run play that they tried to bounce outside. But Jefferies and Cozbi Craig converged on the ball carrier for a loss on the play, giving the ball back to the Rams.
What followed was a time consuming, 14-play drive, featuring Thomas carrying the ball seven straight times, including a spinning one-yard score where he bounced off a would-be Parkview tackler. With a failed two-point conversion, it was still a 21-19 Parkview lead, going into halftime.
Parkview wasted no time extending its lead at the onset of the second half.
Rogers started things off by returning the third quarter kickoff 51 yards. Eight plays later, Payton connected with Jamal Copeland who shielded off the Newton defensive back with his body and took the slant route to the house 22 yards for a score.
Newton had a chance to answer with a touchdown drive of its own. It was sparked by Howard’s 23-yard completion to Thomas on a screen pass. Two plays later he connected with Mathison for a pick up of 20. The drive stalled there, however, and Newton settled for a 23-yard field goal, chopping Parkview’s lead to 28-22 at the 7:21 mark in the third.
The Rams would add another 30-yard field goal before the end of the third quarter, slicing Parkview’s deficit to a field goal. And then a 29-yard boot after Newton’s defense turned Parkview away on another fourth down play tied the game at 28.
Parkview’s Rogers would score on a 30-yard touchdown that looked almost identical to his first rushing score, with just under three minutes remaining, but then Parkview attempted an onside kick which the Rams recovered at their own 48 yard line, setting up their overtime-forcing, late game heroics.
The loss ended Newton’s season at 7-4. But while Parkview celebrated on one side of the field and Banks, on the other side, was reduced to holding one of his defensive linemen up as he wept, the Newton coach spoke of another win his team achieved Friday night — the kind of win they probably won’t appreciate until years down the road.
“For the majority of my seniors, this is it,” Banks said, choking up again. “This is the last time they’ll ever play football. The way they lost sucks. It absolutely sucks. But it’s a lesson learned, that in life, your response to things determines the outcome. Sometimes you can put all your energy into something and still not have it go your way. How you come out of it determines the kind of man you’re gonna be.
“You’ve got to be tough in this life if you’re going to be successful. I know it hurts. But I think our guys learned that tonight.”