SNELLVILLE, Ga. — Down 28-27, in a tightly contested region contest, the Rams knew their matchup against Shiloh was a must-win to stay alive for the third seed in Region 8-AAAAAAA.
With their offense on the field and just a few minutes left in the high school football game, the Rams showed off their mighty rushing attack, pounding the ball and the clock, before getting to the Generals 18-yard line.
Then came Josh Hardeman.
Hardeman took the next play, made a vicious cut and pranced his way into the end zone in walk-off fashion to give the Rams the win on the road in dramatic fashion.
“That whole drive as we got closer, I was just trying to do the math,” head coach Camiel Grant said. “I was just trying to make sure where we needed to go from there. When he scored, it was exciting, but we were already to the next one.”
The touchdown gave Newton its first lead since early in the first quarter.
Newton took the opening kickoff deep into Generals territory before setting up a quick touchdown to take the early lead.
It wouldn’t be long before the Generals took control, however, as they scored 14 unanswered, momentarily stunning Newton.
The Rams responded quickly, however, as Neal Howard connected with Nyland Green for a quick 38-yard pass to tie the game at 14-all as time on the first period expired.
The second quarter began as tight as the first as both teams traded possessions with no score.
Just as the Rams' offense seemed to get going with Hines, a rushing attempt by him resulted in the Generals getting the ball back at their own 46.
The Generals used the fumble to their advantage, scoring just a few plays later as Goffney completed a 47-yard catch and run score to Darrell McDowell Jr.
The Rams continued the dog fight, however, scoring on their next possession when Howard found Robert Lewis for a 42-yard touchdown, but the extra point was blocked, giving the Generals a 1-point lead heading into halftime.
Grant knew his Rams squad was still in it with an excellent chance to win despite not leading since early in the first quarter.
“They play the way they've really played all season in spurts,” he said. “All week, we talked about playing for four quarters and seeing what would happen if we play the game for four quarters. We’ve lost some tough games this year, but we felt like in all of those games, we just didn’t finish, so that was the challenge all week.”
With the ball first in the second half, the Generals relied heavy on Arthur Rogers Jr., who got five straight carries to get the Generals in the red zone.
A touchdown pass from Goffney to Dakota Thomas from 4 yards out capped off the drive and put the Generals up by 8 with eight minutes left in the third.
Much like Shiloh relied on Rogers, the Rams began leaning on the running ability of Quincy Cullins Jr., who, after not carrying the ball once in the first half, took several handoffs in a row to move the Rams down the field and ultimately scoring on a 19-yard scamper. After settling for a PAT, the Rams still trailed by one midway through the third.
With Cullins getting some second-half playing time, the Rams made it clear they were going to run the ball with several different backs to alter the pacing of the game.
“Going into the season, it was kind of our thought to get everyone back there,” Grant said. “We had some injuries early, and some guys got out of the rotation. We’re getting everybody back fresh at the right time, so that’s what we expect our run game to look like moving forward. Any guy could have the hot hand, but we want to make sure we spread those touches around because all of them are very good with ball handling.”
Just as Shiloh looked to march down the field again with Rogers, a forced fumble recovered by the Rams in Generals territory at first appeared to swing the momentum of the game in Newton’s favor.
However, a holding penalty on a big gain by Cullins stalled the drive, and the Rams remained trailing by a point after a missed field goal attempt.
On the next Shiloh possession, the Rams defense held tough, forcing a turnover on downs at their own 40, but after a blown-up play in the backfield and a couple of penalties, the Rams were forced to punt on a fourth-and-20.
After the stout defense forced another Generals punt, the Rams took over at their own 25 with five minutes to play looking to take a late lead.
Newton kept to the dominant ground game philosophy by running out the clock.
After completing a clutch third-down throw from Howard to the hands of Diondre Glover, the Rams found themselves inside the 20 before Hardeman took the game-winning touchdown in with just a minute left.
The Rams held the Generals on fourth down to seal the game and improved to 6-3 on the season, still keeping their eyes on the third seed for the playoffs.
Newton will host Rockdale in the teams' final game of the regular season. A win will lock Newton into that third seed in the playoff bracket, and Grant knows just how important that rivalry game is.
“Rockdale is a rival,” he said. “A lot of those kids have grown up together, played in rec ball together, go to church together, and live close to each other. It won’t be hard to get them up. If anything, keeping the team even will be the biggest challenge. They understand that nothing is a given, and they want to win that game because of course it's Rockdale, but we don’t want to go into the playoffs limping.”