COVINGTON, Ga. — After the Newton Rams broke down their final practice before heading off to Valdosta to face No. 3 Lowndes (3-0) Friday, they trotted off the field with a vibe of lighthearted confidence.
They jawed at each other, laughed. Some huddled with position coaches for final instructions.
And then there was Myron Middlebrooks.
The senior quarterback stayed frozen, kneeling with one knee to the ground, helmet off and head down as if he was still reciting The Lord’s Prayer with his teammates. But what he was doing, in his words, was “letting it all soak in.”
“It’s my last year going to Lowndes, and you always want to go out with a bang,” Middlebrooks said. “So I’m trying to get a team victory, and I believe we can pull it out.”
Last season, Middlebrooks — then a junior in his first season as starter — almost led the most improbable of comebacks at Lowndes.
After Newton fell behind 21-0, the Rams stormed back, settling for a 42-34 loss, yet riding out of town with the distinction of playing the Vikings closer than any other non-winning opponent, except for Parkview which suffered a one point loss to Lowndes.
And that closeness wasn’t just an anomaly for when these two teams meet. Although Lowndes is 4-1 in the all-time series with Newton, more games have been nail biters than runaways.
In fact, the Rams beat Lowndes 15-14 in Valdosta during coach Terrance Banks’ second game at the helm of Newton’s program.
Then Newton came back and dropped a narrow 17-13 decision the next year. There were lopsided losses of 31-0 in 2012 and 56-7 in 2015. But the Rams have shown enough to send the message that the atmosphere and lore of a blue-blood, South Georgia football program will not scare them.
Banks feels this way, particularly about his second-year starter under center.
“This is Myron’s second time down there,” Banks said. “He’s been there, done that. He’s experienced. He knows where the play clock is. He knows the vibe. He gets that atmosphere, and he won’t be intimidated. And if he’s not intimidated, the other 10 guys in the huddle and the guys on the sideline will say, ‘hey, we got this.’”
Make no mistake about it, though. Banks understands that a South Georgia high school football stadium packed with 15,000 hostile fans is nothing to just kick aside. But he also believes that putting his team in such environments can only bode well for them down the stretch of the season.
“One reason why we take these kind of games is because if you can go down and play at Martin Stadium, and play with those guys, you can play with any team in the state, anywhere come playoff time. For us, it’s a checkmark game. It lets us evaluate and see where we are.”
Healthwise, Banks’ bunch is in a good place heading into Friday’s 8 p.m. kickoff. Running back Nuru Tinch, out last week against Peachtree Ridge with illness, practiced each day during the weather-shortened week. As did senior defensive back and kick return specialist, Elija Godwin.
Several other players with nicks and bruises were preparing, and Banks said he’s looking forward to seeing what his full complement of players can do against elite competition.
“We’ve got some guys who are now available,” he said. “Don’t know if they’re quite 100 percent. We’ll do a dry test run tomorrow and make a game time decision. Guys like Nuru, he looks better this week, and again, it’s a game time decision, but we expect him to be ready to tote the rock a lot for us tomorrow.”
Beyond personnel strengths, Middlebrooks said his team will play with a chip on their shoulders, largely because he knows how most people — including Lowndes football players themselves — feel about Newton’s chances.
“I think it’s just that they talk so much,” Middlebrooks said. “They don’t believe we can pull it out. But it makes us work harder. Last year we gave away some points. If we didn’t do that, we should’ve pulled out the victory then.”
But the past is the past. And senior safety, Jaison Taylor says he’s only concerned about what this team will bring in this game.
“We’re a brotherhood this year more than last year,” Taylor said. “We really come together and compete. We’re not afraid of Lowndes. We’re going to go down there with a mentality to win each and every game and play to win.”
It’s a mentality shared by his coach.
“We believe we’re going to win the game,” Banks said. “We know we are capable of winning. We know Lowndes is the best opponent we’ve faced and that they’re very, very good. But we’re up for the challenge. And if you ask me, yes, no doubt. I think our guys can be the better team Friday night.”