COVINGTON, Ga. — It wasn’t always pretty, but the Newton Rams came away from its season and home opener, satisfied with a 39-24 victory Thursday night at Homer Sharp Stadium.
It was a game where the Rams punished the Titans up front to the tune of over 300 rushing yards, with one likely star and one who emerged in the spotlight.
UAB commit and Newton senior tailback, Nuru Tinch, in his first regular season action as a healthy back since early last season, ran for a whopping 137 yards on just 11 carries in the first half to go along with a touchdown.
But in the second half, it was the Ryan Burton show. The junior rushed for 103 yards on seven carries and a score of his own, including a 66-yard run that set himself up for that touchdown in the third quarter while the game was still close.
The Rams overcame three turnovers and a host of penalties to notch its second straight season opening victory over Drew. But being that it was the first game of the season, Banks wasn’t in the mood to complain.
“I thought, tonight, we were physical,” Banks said. “I’m very happy we got the win. We got a lot of things to make up for and improve on. We’ve gotta win the turnover battle, and we didn’t do that tonight. But they say the most improvement a team makes is between game one and game two. Let’s hope that’s true.”
The game was marred by mistakes and miscues from the beginning, starting with sophomore wideout Robert Lewis, ripping off a 25-yard kick return on the game’s opening kickoff, only for it to be negated by an illegal block.
The Newton offense promptly went three and out, and Drew started a nine-play drive that eventually stalled out, forcing the Titans to a punt. But the ensuing punt hit a Newton Ram player on the foot, causing a live ball situation. Drew recovered the ball that the Rams’ 28 yard line.
“We’ve got to understand what ‘Peter’ means, and get away from the ball on punt returns,” Banks said.
The mistake was costly, as six plays later, Drew tailback Derionta Kemp pushed in from seven yards as the recipient of an option pitch from quarterback Gary Tyner. The score gave Drew a 6-0 lead at the 3:38 mark of the first quarter.
Penalties and miscues would hinder the Rams again on the subsequent kickoff, as Lewis bolted 80 yards on the kickoff return, but it again was negated, thanks to another block in the back penalty which set the Rams back to their own 25 yard line.
Newton settled down on offense and began feeding Tinch who ripped off three straight gains of 10 or more yards. But then a big pass play to Ryan Burton was negated by an illegal participation infraction which stalled out another drive.
After Newton’s defense forced Drew into a three-and-out, the Rams would finally get on the board once Tinch rumbled for 38 yards to the Titan one yard line, then lowered his right shoulder on the next play and pushed his way into the end zone to tie the game at 6 with 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
The Rams seemed to be getting on a roll when, on its next offensive possession, they capped a 9-play, 62-yard drive with a two-yard score from junior tailback Adarius Thomas at the 5:13 mark in the second quarter.
Newton had a chance to put some real distance between itself and Drew before halftime, as the Rams forced another three-and-out, and Tinch began to take control with big runs of 15 and 12 yards. Tinch’s third carry of the drive had him with a full head of steam toward the end zone, but he fumbled and Drew recovered on its own five.
Then, with just one minute remaining before halftime, Tyner hooked up with junior wideout Tyrek Pressley for an 87 yard scoring strike. The missed two point conversion left Newton with a 13-12 halftime advantage.
The Tinch fumble seemed to get under Banks’ craw, as he explained it to be the reason why the 6-foot, 212-pound tailback didn’t see action in the second half.
“The ball is the most precious thing on that field,” Banks said. Then he waxed eloquent, paraphrasing a quote from Georgia Tech football coaching legend, John Heisman.
“It’s better to die as a young boy than to fumble the football,” Banks said. “The ball was fumbled.”
Tinch’s second half absence gave way to a bit of discovery, however, as Newton fans got the chance to see senior Burton go to work.
With less than six minutes to go in the third quarter, Burton sliced through the middle of Drew’s defense for a 66-yard gain. Then three plays later, Burton pounded in from one yard out to extend what was a 19-12 lead to 25-12 at the five minute mark of the third quarter.
“Ryan ran phenomenally tonight,” Banks said. “He ran behind his pads. He ran with intensity. He was a young man that got his chance and did well.”
Before that play sequence by Burton, senior quarterback, Myron Middlebrooks also made the most of his opportunities to show his improved decision making in the passing game.
After senior safety and Navy football commit, Jaison Taylor stepped in front of a Tyner pass and fell out of bounds with the interception, giving Newton the ball at the Drew 39, Middlebrooks went to work.
He kept alive what could’ve been a dead-end drive when he connected with Jerrol Hines over the middle for 21-yard toss-and-catch on 4th and 5. It was a gamble on a fourth down conversion that Banks saw as really no gamble at all.
“Ya’ll know I don’t like to punt,” he said. “Plus, I’m a math guy. I played the percentages. We thought we could get it, so we went for it.”
It ended up posturing Middlebrooks to find Lewis over the middle for a two-yard touchdown pass, which gave Newton that 19-12 lead with 8:10 left in the third.
Then Middlebrooks struck through the passing game again, when he connected with Mathison for a 71-yard score at the end of the third to give the Rams a 32-12 lead.
Drew would answer with a 21 yard Tyner-to-Jordan Lee score to make it 32-18 at the 7:50 mark, but 50 seconds later, Middlebrooks would respond with a 25-yard strike to Lewis over the middle to give Newton a 39-18 advantage.
The Titans added a garbage time touchdown to provide the final margin after their defense recovered a Newton high snap when the Rams had back ups in on the offensive line and at quarterback.
Banks said he never doubted that his bunch was superior to their opposition. So even at halftime when Newton nursed a one point lead, he told his team not to panic.
“We talked about in the locker room at halftime how we were still the better team, we felt,” Banks said. “We allowed them to hang in the game. So we talked about not worrying about the score, let the game come to you, don’t make mistakes and good things will happen.”
The win gave Newton its fourth straight season opening win, and boosted Banks’ record to 4-1 in openers during his five year tenure at the school.
Next week will be the big in-county rivalry showdown with Eastside. But between now and then, Banks is intent on getting his team back to work to clean up some of the carelessness on the field.
“Holding on to the ball,” he said. “Doing the little things. And then there’s some new stuff in the high school game we have to get our kids used to, like how if your helmet comes off (the player) has to stop playing. It’s things like that you can’t coach a kid on until it happens. But we think we’re going to be fine.”
Eastside opens its season Saturday with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Luella, also at Sharp Stadium. Newton and Eastside will meet next Friday at 7:30 p.m. The two teams played to a 41-41 tie last year.