COVINGTON, Ga. — Senior night ended on a high note for the Newton Rams, as they plowed through Rockdale, 49-21 Friday night in the last regular season game of the season for Newton, and the final time Rams seniors would step foot onto Sharp Stadium as high school football players.
The win was a workmanlike performance for Newton ahead of its first round game, likely at Parkview next Friday, but it was also an opportunity for Newton coach Terrance Banks to look back and appreciate the contributions of his current senior class.
“These are some special young men,” Banks said of his seniors. “You’ve seen them grow, most of them since age 14. And now a lot of them are 17, 18 an even 19, and we’re excited to see their maturity as young men. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Newton’s win in the game dubbed as the seventh annual County Line Classic, helped the Rams finish the regular season with a 7-3 mark and 3-2 finish in Region 8-AAAAAAA. It sealed for them a No. 3 seed in the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs.
It began as a bit of a struggle, though, particularly for Newton’s offense. In fact, it was the defense becoming the offense for Newton’s first score, when the Rams’ Christian Murray scooped up a fumble from Rockdale quarterback Torezz Alexander and returned it 44 yards for the score.
Mike Mathison ran it in for the two-point conversion to make it 8-0, Newton, at the 1:54 mark of the first quarter.
It felt like quite a while before Newton’s offense got untracked and put points on the board itself.
Part of that was due to a jerky-jerky first half that featured over 20 penalties between the two teams. But Newton’s offense did finally find pay dirt when sophomore quarterback Neal Howard teamed up with Adarius Thomas on a screen pass.
Thomas snagged the short throw, juked a would-be Rockdale tackler on a jump cut, then bounced outside to the left sideline and darted 68 yards for the score that stretched Newton’s lead to 15-0 at the 6:49 mark of the second quarter.
“Rockdale came out and played straight zero coverage and blitzed seven, and we weren’t expecting that,” Banks said. “So we stayed with some stuff on offense, just to see how it would work out. But we were also able to make some adjustments that were needed and went from there.”
After the score, Rockdale got on the board next when Torrez Alexander lined up at quarterback and executed a zone read play so perfectly that he scooted 15 yards into the end zone, completely untouched. The Bulldogs missed the extra point, though, keeping the score 15-6.
Newton struck back fast when senior speedster Elija Godwin turned on his track and field state champion speed to take the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for the score.
Rockdale aided the Rams in their next score when Jacarius Wise picked off a Rockdale pass, which set up a three-play, 63-yard drive that featured runs of 36 and 24 yards for Nuru Tinch who eclipsed the 100-yard mark while playing only close to one half of action. His latter run was the scoring play that extended Newton’s lead to 28-6 just 1:41 before halftime.
In a game where Banks played five different running backs, the coach said being able to rest guys like Tinch over the last couple of weeks was imperative heading into the postseason.
“Most definitely, because now it’s mental reps for those guys (when they miss time),” Banks said. “We’re gonna need (Nuru) if we’re gonna play more than just next week. So now it’s all about getting our banged up guys healthy.”
Tinch looked plenty heathy on one of his first carries of the second half.
In fact, because of Tinch, it didn’t take Newton long to open the scoring for the third quarter, as the Rams took the third quarter kickoff and capped off a four-play drive with a 45-yard Tinch burst up the middle of Rockdale’s defense. He literally pulled away from a Rockdale defender who tried to corral him by his jersey. It was Tinch’s second touchdown run and gave Newton a 35-6 advantage.
The Bulldogs responded by adding a nine-yard touchdown by Dexter Manior and a two point conversion at the 3:27 mark in the third.
Newton would add two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter as backups from both teams populated the field to create the final margin.
Banks quickly turned business-like in describing his team’s preparation for Friday.
“We’ve got to go back and we’ve got to clean up some stuff,” Banks said. “At this point, we know what we do well, and we’ll see how what we do on offense and defense and special teams work against them, and anything can happen.”
Even a return of Newton’s senior quarterback Myron Middlebrooks? Banks sort of bristled at the notion, while reinforcing his confidence in sophomore Neal Howard.
“We will prepare as if Neal Howard is the quarterback,” Banks said. “And if something changes, something changes.”