COVINGTON, Ga - The Newton Rams (5-2, 1-1) played the Archer Tigers (4-2, 1-0) close for the majority of the game, but the Tigers pulled away late with the 29-13 victory.
Special teams miscues were a consistent issue for the Rams and a mishap on a punt ultimately flipped the momentum from the Rams to the Tigers.
Deep in their own territory and punting from their endzone, the Rams snapped the ball back to their punter, but the snap sailed over his head and out the back of the endzone for a safety.
This safety gave the Tigers a 15-13 lead that would be enough to leave Sharp Stadium with a crucial region win. Newton Rams head coach Camiel Grant Jr. felt not only the momentum shift from his group to the Tigers but also felt that his team lacked energy after this play.
"I am disappointed after we gave up that safety, our energy kind of went away," Grant said. "It's almost like we were, instead of expecting to go make a big play, we were waiting for something bad to happen to us, and when it did, I didn't feel that we played with the same level of intensity."
Previous to this play, the Rams seemed to have all the momentum after coming back to tie the game with the Tigers.
After trailing 13-0 at the 10:30 mark of the second quarter, The Rams offense came alive and began to mount a comeback. It only took the Rams two minutes and 32 seconds to get on the board and trim the Tigers lead to 7 on a 52-yard touchdown pass.
The touchdown was on a 10-yard slant to receiver Robert Lewis, who broke multiple tackles before outrunning the opposition and scoring his team's first touchdown.
The Rams would walk into the halftime locker room down seven, but would quickly change that. Quarterback Neal Howard would connect with Lewis again on a 28-yard touchdown pass where Lewis split the seam and got between the Tigers safeties and fought his way into the end zone.
The Howard and Lewis connection was in full effect, and both players had excellent games for the Rams. Lewis finished his night with six catches for 117 yards and two receiving touchdowns.
Howard was equally impressive, finishing 24 of 32 with 298 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air. Howard did an excellent job of managing the offense, but a few mistakes and holding the ball for too long stagnated the offense on late drives.
Rams head coach Camiel Grant Jr. was very pleased with Howard's performance but understood the impact of some of those late-game plays.
"Those three or four sacks kind of put us in a bind, but other than that, I felt the guys did a good job," Grant said. "To me, the first half, He(Howard) played probably the best half that I've seen him play since he's been here."
These negative plays paired with special teams' struggles led to a plethora of opportunities for the Tigers, working with a short field. Grant knows that this is an area that they will need to improve upon as they march deeper into their region schedule.
Overall, this is a performance that the Rams defense and defensive coordinator Spencer Fortson can take pride in, despite the loss. The Rams did an excellent job of holding the Tigers offense back, but those short fields were too much to overcome and the Tigers added on two rushing touchdowns late to secure the victory.
"They played lights out, and it's been that way several weeks with them, and coach Fortson and his staff continues to do a good job of taking away what the other team does best," Grant said. "They had a ton of short fields to work with and for them to really only give up two touchdowns. I thought they did an excellent job based on the short field that Archer had all night."
This is a tough loss for the Rams to swallow, but it showed that this team has a lot of promise. They do not have time to hang their heads though, because after next week's bye, they have one of the best teams in AAAAAAA coming to Sharp Stadium in the Grayson Rams (5-1,1-0) on Friday, October 25th.
Grant knows that this will be another tough test but looks forward to the opportunity for his guys to play one of the best teams in the state.
"These are the types of games and the type of opponents that you have to win against to be a championship-level football team," Grant said. "You have to learn how to finish a game against these types of people to be able to go deep into the state playoffs. I'm excited that we're in a region that you get to play those types of ball games."