COVINGTON, Ga. — For the Newton Rams football team, it’s felt like a long time since its been able to play football.
Part of that is because, thanks to a bye week, it’s been two weeks since Newton last lined up against an opponent that wasn’t dressed in blue and white practice gear. But the other part of that has to do with what happened the last time the Rams took the field.
Newton was handed a 27-20 loss to in-county rival Eastside two Fridays ago, and although Rams coach Terrance Banks was glad for a week off to rest, regroup and re-evaluate, he and his players say they sorely missed the opportunity to immediately rebound from a loss.
“No, you don’t want to go without playing a game right after you lose when you’re a competitor,” Banks said. “Competitors always want to play. That said, we approached the bye week the same way as if we would’ve if we won. We’re just trying to stay on pace. We have the same things to get better at, so we focus on that.”
One of Banks and Newton’s main points of focus was quarterback play — not that junior Neal Howard or senior LT Stowers has had particularly bad stretches during their first two games of almost exclusively shared action. But Banks knew that settling on a main starter would be something he’d have to figure out sooner or later.
“I’ve made a decision on what I’m going to do about quarterback, but I don’t want to share that with anybody right now,” Banks said.
Anyone who shows up to the 7:30 p.m. Friday night “Battle of the Rams” between Class AAAAA Arabia Mountain (2-1) and Newton (1-1) at Sharp Stadium will find out who will trot out behind center together. But one thing’s for sure: Whomever gets the nod as starting signal caller will have some major weapons at their disposal.
Wide receivers Mike Mathison and Robert Lewis have been raising eyebrows in the early part of the season. Jerrol Hines has been proving himself a potential big play waiting to happen, as he’ll line up in several spots around the field.
And running back Adarius Thomas has reeled off at least one big run of 30-plus yards each time he’s touched the field this season, dating back to the spring game at Salem back in May.
Banks said he knows the big play ability is there with his squad. Always has been. But the last few days have been about refining the intricacies.
“It’s focus,” Banks said. “And attention to detail. And that’s not only from the kids, but from the coaches as well, which translates down. Our job is to teach them. I think with some of the kids, they thought stuff would be easier than it is, and that’s my fault. So (the bye week) was a chance for us to reel ourselves back in, starting with me as the head coach.”
In Arabia Mountain Rams, Newton will not only see a team that shares its mascot and nickname, but a solid program that’s used to winning and. Arabia Mountain has gone 20-6 over the last two seasons combined, complete with quarterfinals runs in the state playoffs and back-to-back Region 5-AAAAA championships.
The Rams from Lithonia boast a 6-foot-3, 195-pound pro-style quarterback in senior Bryson Williams who has offers and interest from the likes of Alabama State, Southern University, Georgia State, Kansas State and Mercer, according to 247sports.com. He’s currently thrown for 617 yards and five touchdowns without an interception while completing close to 60 percent of his passes during the first three games.
He’s also got a trio of senior wideouts in Matthew Crawford, Keynon Webb and D’Anthony Garrett who are all averaging over 15 yards per catch. Defensively, Jamie Buckhanon and Chandler Martin are the team’s top tacklers from their linebacker spots.
In short, Banks says Arabia can match his ball club athlete for athlete on the field, which means Newton will have to do more than just try to run by them in order to come out victorious.
“Arabia Mountain is a lot like us,” Banks said. “They’re very athletic at the skill positions. They’ve got good guys on the line with experience. They’ve won region the last two years. Won some games in the playoffs. It’s a game where we’ll have to really pay attention to detail because we won’t be able to out-athlete them. The most fundamentally sound team will be the team that’s successful. The team that scores in the red zone, doesn’t commit turnovers or penalties will win the game.”
Is Banks calling this latest non-region test a must-win for his team to regain some momentum before heading to another Class AAAAA school in powerhouse Buford next Friday?
Yes and no.
“We want to play well, and of course we want to win,” he said. “Every time we touch the field we want to win. Whether it’s against Arabia Mountain, whether it’s the University of Georgia or whether it’s the Atlanta Falcons, I’m always gonna bet on the Newton boys.”
Banks says being ready for its region Region 8-AAAAAAA opener against South Gwinnett at the end of the month is still the main focus, though.
“Everything we’re doing is all about testing ourselves so that when South Gwinnett comes, we’re clicking on all cylinders,” he said. “Now, I’ll never say if we don’t win it’s the end of the world. But in a sense, it’s a must-win game in that, yes, we’d better win this one because it’s the next game we have to play, and we should always expect to win.”