CONYERS, Ga. – The 50th meeting between next-door county rivals, Newton and Rockdale definitely played itself out like a rivalry should.
In the end, it was Newton which fell to the Rockdale Bulldogs 35-34 in a double overtime thriller that marked Rockdale’s first win over Newton since 2013 while touching off a litany of emotions on both sides of the field.
After a scoreless first overtime, Rams quarterback Neal Howard tossed a go-ahead touchdown pass to Mike Mathison to go up six. But instead of kicking the extra point to extend to a seven point lead, Newton coach Terrance Banks elected to attempt a two-point conversion. The two-point try failed, leaving the score at 34-28, with Rockdale needing a touchdown and extra point to win.
On the ensuing drive, Rockdale quarterback Justin Steele fired a pass across the middle to receiver Darnell Stephens who made a diving, end-of-the-finger grab for six. The extra point was good, and the celebration began.
As dramatic as the game turned out, the post-game action may have provided the night’s most intriguing drama.
After the game, emotions were obviously running high. As the Rams were leaving the field, two Newton coaches could be seen arguing with each other. The rest of the staff who witnessed the argument physically restrained the two from each other, preventing any actual physical altercation.
In the midst of the situation, Banks ran up to the situation, apparently trying to sort things out. While obviously frustrated and exasperated, he announced to those listening, “I resign,” and made further comments about him quitting.
As the teams converged paths on the way to the locker rooms, a small scrum started to brew between players, but fortunately, enough level-heads were present to prevent any substantial altercation.
When asked about why he elected to go for two instead of kicking the extra point, Banks made a statement about officiating, but it was unclear exactly what the qualm was.
“I didn’t agree with the refs’ call, but it is what it is,” Banks said.
But when asked for further comments on the other post-game happenings, including his statements about resigning, Banks declined comment and abruptly walked away toward the locker room.
During the first quarter, any idea of a close game — needless to say overtime — was actually laughable.
After one quarter of play, the Bulldogs were, in all rights, dominating Newton, up 21-0. Early in the second, things slowly started to turn around for the Rams when Devon Holmes blocked a Rockdale punt, giving the Rams the ball at the Rockdale 9-yard line. Two plays later, Jerrol Hines scampered around the edge for a touchdown, giving the Rams a little bit of life.
Things went quiet from both sides for a while, until, with about four minutes left in the half, the Rams plugged in Neal Howard at quarterback, replacing LT Stowers who got the start.
Howard then led the Rams on a 10-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by a seven-yard touchdown pass to Hines. This put the score at 21-14, and put Newton right back in the game.
With eight minutes left in the third quarter, junior Diondre Glover took a screen pass and streaked 65-yards all the way to the house, knotting the game up at 21.
After forcing a three-and-out, and another clutch special teams play, Newton began with the ball in the red zone. Howard quickly found Mike Mathison, whose double move put his defender on his back, releasing him on a clear path to the end zone, putting the Newton up 28-21 with 6:19 left in the third.
Things once again hit a dry spell for both squads, until the 5:33 mark of the fourth when, Rockdale quarterback Justin Steele tossed a 20-yard strike to tie the game at 28.
Though both teams had multiple chances to take a late-game lead and end things in regulation — including a missed field goal from Rockdale as time expired — neither team was able to stave off overtime.
With this loss, Newton finishes the 2018 regular season with a 4-6 overall record and 2-3 mark in Region 8-AAAAAAA. Despite the disappointing regular season, the Rams still have an opportunity to salvage the year in the playoffs.
Newton will be the No. 3 seed in the Class AAAAAAA playoffs and will travel to face West Forsyth (5-5, 4-1) out of Region 5-AAAAAAA next Friday in the first-round playoff game which is set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.