While its 1-3 record may not be what the Newton High varsity football team would like to carry into Sharp Stadium Friday night, a new season for the Rams begins as they take on rival Alcovy in their first region game of the season.
The Rams have the opportunity to wipe the slate clean, while also spoiling the Tigers' goal of claiming the Newton Cup, with a win Friday night.
Despite a two-game losing streak entering the rivalry clash, Newton coach Terrance Banks believes his players are battle tested enough to overcome their early season struggles and even their record against in-county competition.
"This is as much of a must-win game for us as it gets," Banks said. "Winning that first region game is important — especially in a rivalry game it's important. We are on a slide and the scores haven’t been great. We have been gearing up for this moment. All of our tough non-region games have been preparing us for this."
The Rams enter the contest with back-to-back losses to Valdosta and Langston Hughes, averaging just over 10 points per game in the two losses.
Banks said his offense will have to value the football, as turnovers have been an issue for Newton in their three losses this year.
"We need to take care of the ball," he said. "Turnovers were the deciding factor last week. We gave up four and only caused two. You can’t beat anyone playing that kind of game. We can’t turn the ball over to Alcovy."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams will take on one of the top wide receivers in the region in Jaylin Penny, while facing a grinding Alcovy offense that can pound teams with the run. The Tigers have averaged 27.5 points in their four wins this season.
"We have to shut down Jaylin (Penny)," Banks said. "I want Alcovy to have to run the ball all night long. If they throw the ball, I want their receivers to be covered by more than one person and really have to work to get it. They have great, tough kids, but we have to stop their offense from feeding off of Jaylin."
Banks knows that with a win over the Tigers, the struggles the Rams endured during the first half of the season would be a learning tool instead of reason for concern.
"The guys are very upbeat," he said. "They were a lot more upbeat than I thought they would be. People forget that Newton was 0-4 heading into this game last year. They were beat up thoroughly. I think they have their heads up high because they know what can happen."