COVINGTON, Ga. — Stick this game in the ‘we wish we could have that one back’ file.
The Westlake Lions took advantage of a plethora of Newton mistakes and turnovers, helping them erase a 12 point deficit to escape from Sharp Stadium with a 26-23 non-region win over the Rams Friday night, thanks to a walk-off 22-yard field goal as time expired.
The loss dropped Newton to 2-3 ahead of next week’s Homecoming game and Region 8-AAAAAAA opener with South Gwinnett, and it likely made Rams coach Terrance Banks an insomniac Friday night.
“After every game, especially one like tonight, I ain’t gonna get no sleep,” Banks said. “I’m probably gonna be second guessing myself on a lot of stuff, man.”
Perhaps the pivotal play that swung things in Westlake’s favor happened toward the end of the third quarter.
It came shortly after Westlake converted a 40-yard field goal to pull with five and Newton’s Adarius Thomas exploded on an off-tackle run on his way to a 66-yard scoring scamper that stretched Newton’s lead to 21-9 with just 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
Westlake would quickly turn it over on downs, and the Rams appeared ready to apply the dagger, as they were in the midst of a 90-yard scoring drive when Thomas’ fumble on the Westlake 1-yard line halted that momentum.
Some will call it a controversial call, as it appeared Thomas fell right back on the ball after it popped out and seemed to emerge from the pile with it. But officials aware it to Westlake which didn’t immediately turn that miscue into points.
It was two Westlake possessions later when a high snap over the punter’s head gave the Lions excellent field position at its own 29, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, Westlake’s Caleb Dixon connected with Amir Spivey for a 16-yard scoring strike on a slant route, making the score 21-16 with Newton still leading with 11:53 left in regulation.
“When we fumbled that ball on the 1-yard line, I feel like momentum got up and went over to there side, and they played and we continued to fall over ourselves,” Banks said.
Newton missed several more opportunities to put the game away late in the last frame with a lead. And, again, it looked like the Rams would when Lamarion Ewing blocked a Westlake punt that went out of the back of the end zone, giving Newton a safety and a 23-16 lead at the 8:36 mark of the fourth.
On the ensuing possession, though, Stowers would toss his third pick of the night as he tried to hit Robert Lewis on a short pass that bounced off his hands and fell into a Westlake defender’s grasp.
Westlake took over on their own 20, and quarterback Jalyn Williams found Gabe Reeves on a long bomb. Reeves broke a tackle and appeared to be on his way for the go-ahead score, but he fumbled the ball and Nyland Green recovered it at the 20-yard line, with the Rams needing just a couple of first downs to salt the game away.
Westlake’s defense bowed up and forced a three-and-out, and then Williams engineered a two-play, 45-yard scoring drive that was capped with a 13-yard touchdown pass to tie the score.
Newton couldn’t get anything going on offense again, and Westlake generated just enough to put itself in position for the game-winner.
It was a heartbreaker of a game for the Rams, yet one that Banks said shows his team isn’t far away from being a complete squad that can compete — and win — against anybody.
“I know I sound like a broken record, and I’ll probably get a lot of hate mail about it,” Banks said. “The loss will be blamed on me, and that’s fine. But I’ll keep saying it. We’re close. We just gotta seal the deal, man. I feel like for the most part we outplayed them, but we missed opportunities and they didn’t miss opportunities. Hats off to coach (Kareem) Reid and his team. They coached their behinds off, man, and we couldn’t get our team out of that rut.
Although the latter part of the game featured the Lions clawing back from behind, Westlake punched first, with a three-play, 63-yard drive that was keyed by a 54-yard strike from Jalyn Williams to Tyson Ross. It set up Darrell Nichols to sprint around the right corner for an 8-yard score, giving the Lions a 6-0 lead after the missed extra point, on a drive that took just 1:01.
Newton’s response drive looked solid, but a 4th and 6 pass from Stowers to Mathison was just overthrown, turning the ball back over to the Lions.
The Rams’ defense would stand up and take it back when Caleb Dixon telegraphed a pass right into the hands of Newton’s Green who returned it 37 yards to the Westlake 6-yard line.
Newton would score on the very next play when Stowers connected with Lewis for a well-executed, over-the-shoulder scoring strike that put Newton on top, 7-6 at the 7:14 mark of the first quarter.
Both teams traded a few possessions throughout the duration of the first quarter with little offensive success, until Newton went on a 10-play march that covered 60 yards and ended with Stowers throwing a jump ball to Mathison who came down with it in the back corner for the end zone, extending Newton’s advantage to what eventually be the halftime score of 14-6.
Now with the non-region schedule in the rearview mirror, Banks said he’s going to spend the brunt of his time preaching to his team about the necessity of starting the region slate clean.
“Here’s the fantastic news,” Banks said. “You can print that we’re 2-3, but our record is 0-0. And none of this matters. Here’s what matters: South Gwinnett comes in here for homecoming next week and it’s put up or shutup. Now the real question is, what Newton team is going to show up, and can they show up for 48 minutes?
“We now know where we’re deficient, and we’ve got a short time to fix it. Westlake lost to Grayson by six last week, and we had Westlake on the ropes, so it’s no question about can we play with the teams in our region. However, we won’t be beating the teams in our region if we’re not cutting out our mistakes.”