CUMMING, Ga. — Newton’s bid for its first playoff win in three years, and Camiel Grant’s first win as interim head coach came up short as the Rams fell to West Forsyth 35-3 in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA playoffs.
Grant chalked up the lackluster performance, first of all to the skill of his opponent, and then to some missed opportunities failed execution in crucial spots throughout the night that essentially killed any early-game momentum Newton had.
“West Forsyth, they’re a very well-coached football team first of all,” Grant said. “They didn’t do anything that we didn’t expect. We just knew they’d be good at what they were doing. Early on we didn’t execute. We had some opportunities, but we had some dropped balls and some bad throws and it just seemed like once we couldn’t get it going, the air kind of game out, and we just could never come out of that.”
West Forsyth’s Saxby Waxer punished the Rams’ front seven to the tune of 141 rushing yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. And junior quarterback Drew Southern tossed three touchdown passes — all of them to senior wideout Abe Camara — en route to scoring 35 unanswered points.
The way things started, however, it looked as if the game would be anything but a rout that Newton was on the wrong side of.
Newton started fast with a fumble recovery by Adarius Thomas and a long return that set the Rams up for a 23-yard field goal from Abdiel Valesquez that gave them a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter.
West Forsyth wasted no time responding, as Saxby Waxer capped off a fast-paced opening drive with a 21-yard run that put the Wolverines on top 7-3.
Newton couldn’t get anything going offensively, as a couple of holding penalties halted their next drive. On the other hand, West Forsyth showed off some more quick-strike muscles as quarterback Drew Southern hooked up with Abe Camara on a beautifully executed screen pass that went the distance of 43 yards for a score, stretching the Wolverines’ lead to 14-3 early in the second quarter.
Another Newton 3-and-out ensued for Newton, but West Forsyth got a break on the punt.
The first attempt by Newton’s Michael Mathison was a boomer that landed inside the 20, which would’ve given West Forsyth’s offense a long field for the first time in the game. But a holding call negated it, forcing Newton to have to punt from its own end zone. And, despite another decent punt, West Forsyth took over with good field position at the Rams’ 38.
They’d capitalize four plays later Southern found Camara for a 19-yard catch-and-score, making it 21-3, West Forsyth.
Those were the kinds of miscues and failures to execute that dogged Newton all night, Grant said, making it impossible for the Rams to recapture the early momentum it had.
“That was tough,” Grant said. “The score was 14-3, and we got that great punt off. Flipped the field, and then the holding penalty, and that’s something that was on us as a coaching staff. We did something right there that we talked about not doing again, and from there, we just couldn’t get the life back.”
Newton started a drive that looked like it could be promising after Thomas ripped off runs of nine and two yards that gave the Rams a first down. But two incomplete passes, an illegal procedure penalty and a Mathison-dropped pass stalled things out.
On the positive side, Newton finally got off a field flipping punt that fell inside the 10 to the 9-yard line. But on the negative side, it did nothing to thwart West’s offensive progress.
The Wolverines embarked on a 10-play, 91-yard drive that featured a litany of Waxer runs that seemed to lull the Rams’ defense to sleep, because after a short Waxer gain, Southern Would go up top to Camara for a 48-yard score at the 1:21 mark of the second quarter, providing the 27-3 halftime score.
The second half was a continuation of the first for both teams, with Newton shooting itself in the foot on promising drives with penalties, and West Forsyth using its steady run game to push the Rams around. In fact, it was Waxer who capped an 8-play, 64-yard scoring march with a 5-yard touchdown run.
It was a drive that ate up almost eight minutes of third quarter clock, and the score provided the final margin and put the Wolverines in a position to enjoy a running clock in the fourth quarter.
The win caused West Forsyth to improve to 6-5 for the season as it will travel to play North Gwinnett next week in the second round. Meanwhile, Newton ends the season with a 4-7 record, and will now go into the offseason with some unanswered questions about its immediate future.
As far as Grant’s concerned, however, while he waits to see if his time at the program’s helm is temporary or permanent, he won’t be sitting on his hands while doing so.
“We’ll get in Monday. We’ll do our inventory, collect the equipment and those things,” he said. “Some kids are playing in all-star games, so we’ll make phone calls to make sure those things are set for them, and get right into (college) recruiting. We’ll have exit meetings as a staff, and player evals that will go over the next couple of weeks, and then we’ll make sure everything is together for recruiting fairs, and hit the road to try and get these kinds into school.”