COVINGTON,Ga - Big plays through the air and a stout defensive performance propelled the Newton Rams to a 28-14 victory over the Rockdale County Bulldogs in the final game of the regular season.
Going into the cold-weathered showdown, the Rams knew they had to pull out the win with a third-place spot hanging in the balance in Region 8 play.
“The game plan going into tonight was to stop the run and limit big plays,” head coach Camiel Grant Jr. said. “We knew Rockdale would bring a lot of energy; their record does not tell the true story of how good of a football team they are.
After two empty drives by both offenses, the Rams offense would get going halfway through the first quarter. Senior quarterback Neal Howard would find fellow senior Diondre Glover down the sideline for the 54-yard touchdown to put Newton the board first 7-0 with 6:41 left in the first quarter.
On the next Rockdale drive, quarterback Chandler Peters would find an answer for the Rams defense, first connecting with Jaionte McMillan for 20-yards to get into Newton territory. Peters would then connect with Darren Stephens for the 30-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7 with just over three minutes left in the opening quarter.
The Bulldogs’ defense continued to contain Howard on the next drive, forcing the punt and giving the ball back to the Rockdale offense.
Rockdale would stick to the ground game for the next drive, pushing far into Rams’ territory. Two penalties by Newton put the Bulldogs inside the five-yard line. Peters would take the quarterback sneak in for the touchdown, giving Rockdale the lead 14-7 with 8:00 left in the second quarter.
After opening the drive with two rushes, Howard would find Glover once again, this time with Glover getting the ball over the middle and taking it 54-yards for a touchdown, the senior wideouts second of the game.
“[I had to make reads] when I was outside, they would try to box me in or try to get the linebacker to cover me out,” Glover said.
The Newton momentum would carry over onto the defensive side of the ball, as the junior defensive back Nyland Green would intercept Peters in the back of the end-zone to prevent the late first-half score.
Following the interception by Green, the Rams and Bulldogs would go into halftime tied at 14-14.
Going into halftime, all the offensive fire that the Rams needed came from Howard’s three completions, all of which were to Glover.
After a quick three and out from the Rockdale offense to open the second half, Howard would put together the team's strongest drive of the game.
Five consecutive completions from Howard inside Rockdale territory were capped off by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Glover. The third touchdown reception of the game from Howard to Glover would give the Rams the 21-14 lead early in the third quarter.
“We had to be able to hand man coverage,” Grant said. “We are blessed to have guys that are able to make space despite the [strong man coverage].”
The Rams defense continued to hold the Rockdale offense, keeping them scoreless during the third quarter.
During the first drive of the fourth quarter for Rockdale, Peters would miss the open man, being intercepted by Green, giving the junior defensive back his second interception of the game with 10:59 left in the game.
The Rams’ defense would strike again on the next Rockdale drive. With the Rockdale offense in the red-zone, senior Tyon Bigby would intercept Peters across the middle and take it far into Bulldog territory.
Howard would take advantage of the good field position, moving the Rams inside of the five-yard line after two plays. Newton would go to Quincy Cullins from one-yard out, rushing in for the score and giving cushion to the Rams’ lead, 28-14.
“We proved a lot on both sides [of the offense,” Glover said. “We had less penalties on the offense, and that was a big improvement.”
Just over a minute left in the game, senior Greg Lewis Jr. would intercept Peters to give Newton their fourth interception of the game and secure the Rams a spot in the postseason.
The strong showing from Glover ended with him bringing in five receptions for 149 yards, earning him the MVP of the game.
“[During my season], I have learned to not be a me-player and be a we-player,” Glover said. “Put all of us before one player.”
Despite the strong showing from the defense, the defensive unit gave up more yards than usual through penalties, something Grant wants the team to focus on when getting ready for postseason play.
“We have to have discipline [to limit the penalties], Grant said. “We had hit a good stride the past couple weeks [with penalties], but tonight it was a complete lack of focus.”
After the game, Coach Grant and the rest of the Rams were awarded the County line classic rivalry trophy for defeating the Bulldogs. They will now look to continue the momentum into the postseason.