SNELLVILLE, Ga -- The Newton Rams began their region schedule with a win against the South Gwinnett Comets on the road by a score of 19-0.
The Comets were looking to avenge the 32-7 loss they suffered last season. It was apparent that both teams – the Comets in particular – were looking to slow down their opponents' offense.
Through five games, the Rams have scored 152 points, and the Comets must have known that.
South Gwinnett established their defensive presence early, stuffing Quincy Cullins, who finished the game with an unofficial 59 rushing yards, in the backfield multiple times and getting a sack on Newton's Neal Howard. Howard noticed that the Comets came into the game with a different look on defense -- employing more of a cover two and cover four look than their usual cover three package.
Head coach Camiel Grant gave a nod to the South Gwinnett coaching staff for being cognizant enough to put the Rams on their heels early.
"[South Gwinnett] came out and gave us a totally different front and coverage than what we had seen on film or what we expected," Grant said. "Hats off to coach [Cortez] Allen, I worked with him for many years, and he's a great coach and great defensive coordinator. We had to get in there, get on the board and see what they were doing to us, and we had to change some things up front. And, you know, we had to take the game more to the perimeter to playmakers on the outside."
Aside from 33-yard catch and pass from Howard to Robert Lewis, the Ram found it difficult to rev-up their usual offensive juggernaut in the first half.
Cullins, however, broke through early for a 30-yard run giving the Rams a first and goal. Penalties and a fumble in the red zone left the Rams with one more shot on third and goal to score. After an incomplete pass from Howard, he threw an interception that a South Gwinnett defender intercepted and returned to the 50-yard line.
In the first half alone, Howard was sacked three times -- as the Comets secondary did an excellent job in coverage against the Rams receivers downfield, and their defensive front bullied Newton's in the opening half.
The Ram offensive line suffered a huge loss in the first half when Knoah Franklin went down with an injury, leaving Howard and the Ram backs vulnerable most of the evening.
Coach Grant's defense came prepared as well, stymieing South Gwinnett's passing game most of the night.
"I think you always depend on defense, I guess I'm kind of old school in that you always got to play great defense," Grant said. "[Our defense] played great tonight, coach [Spencer] Fortson and those guys on the defensive side of the ball did a tremendous job having the kids ready. And they played tremendously -- they kept us in the ballgame. They gave us opportunities finally there in the second half, they were able to give us a short field."
On two occasions, the Comets elected not to punt on fourth down, instead opting to force the Ram defense to get a stop. Both times, the Rams came up with ever-important stops.
Physicality from both teams defined the night, especially in the second quarter. The Rams' playcalling consisted of runs from the backs and Howard. Newton wasn't able to get anything going through the air, so the next option was to allow Cullins, Hines, and Howard to make plays on their feet.
Howard ended with the 140 passing yards and most of his run attempts ended up as negative yardage, but he has confidence in the plays he can make with his legs.
"[I'm a] running quarterback," Howard said. "[I] had to use my legs more than I expected, but it's ok we're going to come back next weekend."
With eight minutes left in the second quarter, Howard scrambled for 18 yards – his longest run of the game. A sack and holding penalty put the Rams in a third and long situation backed up at their own two-yard line. After narrowly avoiding the safety, Newton was forced to punt from its own end zone.
Newton's defense would hold once again late in the half, as the Comets used a six-play drive to get into the red zone, but they would leave without a score.
The Ram's scoring drive started at their own 8-yard line with Jerrol Hines running for seven yards then busting through for a 12-yard gain. A sack on first down set the Rams up with a second and long. Howard would then scramble for a 30-yard run, but a holding penalty brought the run back.
A Cullins run left the Rams at the 36-yard line where Howard found Lewis for a pass near the 45-yard line as the senior receiver avoided tackles and forced his way to the end zone with 28 seconds left in the half.
"I saw the number two defender -- he came down Jerrol," Howard said. "Then we had a slant that cleared out, so it was wide open for Robert, and his corner was playing off."
In the third frame, the defenses would trade three and outs with no significant gains for either team. Diondre Glover, bringing in three catches for 55 yards and Hines -- who tallied 34 yards didn't have the usual splash on offense, but coach Grant and the team put their usual trust in the Ram defense.
The fourth quarter began with a mishandled snap on a 28-yard field goal by Abdiel Velasquez.
Newton's defense would continue to hold, and with nine minutes left in the game, senior and four-star recruit Nyland Green would pick off a pass at the forty-yard line and take into the end zone for the Ram's second score of the game.
Field goals at the end of the game sealed the win and improved the Rams record to 5-1 on the season.
With the start of the region schedule marked with a tough win on the road, Grant's team will take what they can from the game, but he says there is much more at stake for the season.
"That was the goal -- start region play with a win. So really, that's the only thing that [this game] does," Grant said. "For us it's week by week, game by game, so we're happy to get the win. Outside of the fact that this [gives us] 1-0 in the region, there's really no other accomplishment that this gives us. It just puts us in a position to continue toward the goals that we've set."
The Rams will return home for their next region matchup as they face the Archer Tigers on Saturday, October 12th, at Sharp Stadium.