The Newton Rams varsity football team welcomes the McEachern Indians to Sharp Stadium tonight for the first round of the state playoffs, fresh off a 49-30 win over Morrow last Saturday in the Rams’ final regular season contest.
The win pushed Newton to the No. 2 seed in Region 2-AAAAAA, and coach Terrance Banks said the Rams are eager to take the field in his first postseason contest.
“Practice has been upbeat and spirited,” Banks said. “That’s what I wanted to see from the guys this week. Everyone is excited to continue playing and making it into the playoffs.”
The Rams will get to host the Indians after Alcovy fell to Lovejoy in the Tigers’ regular season finale. Banks said that having a home game could pay dividends for the Rams this week.
“We’re hoping that winning last week and keeping us at home plays a big role Friday night,” he said. “It’s a big benefit staying here and keeping our routine. We told the kids to stay upbeat and have fun. We haven’t discussed the pressure that comes with playing a playoff game, because I don’t feel that there is any pressure on them. I want them to have fun for as long as we can.”
While the pressure may be off for Banks and the Rams, the Indians will be no slouches on the gridiron. McEachern spent much of the season ranked in the Associated Press Georgia High School Football Poll, but dropped out of the state rankings last week after a 31-17 loss to No. 8 Hillgrove.
McEachern finished the regular season with a 6-2 record in Region 4-AAAAAA, but lost only to the Hawks and No. 9 North Cobb during the regular season.
McEachern lost quarterback Ty Clemons last week to the Hawks with a leg injury, but the Rams will still have their hands full with McEachern running back Taj Griffin.
“They have a tailback who can go from 0-to-60 in 4.3 seconds,” Banks said. “If you let him do that the entire game, it can be a long night for you. He can get started, but we have to limit the opportunities he has to do that.
“We’re going to have to focus on tackling and wrapping up when we get our hands on players,” Banks said. “We were in the backfield a lot last week against Morrow, but we didn’t do a good job of containing and wrapping up their offensive skill guys. We have to do that against McEachern and force them to throw the ball to beat us. If we can make them throw the ball, we can be successful.”
Newton’s offense will also face a robust Indians’ defensive line that features plenty of meat up front.
“Their (defensive line is) big,” Banks said. “Their front four is probably as big as we have seen this year. They like to make it hard for you to run the ball. Our offensive line is going to have to do a good job of blocking and getting some push back, and Romario (Johnson) is going to have to do a good job of reading the defense on our read-option plays so that we can have some success running the ball. If we can run the ball, we can continue to do the things that we do well in the passing game.”
The Indians have allowed more than 28 points in just three games this season.
Banks, who will be coaching in his first playoff game as a head coach, said that making the postseason was a benchmark for his program, and that early season tests have prepared the Rams for this moment.
“Anytime you can make the playoffs helps you to show the kids where your program is,” Banks said. “The games earlier this season against Lowndes, Valdosta and Langston Hughes made us stronger. McEachern is as good as those schools, but they’re not necessarily better. We’ve played top-notch competition, and won a game during that stretch, so we can be successful."
Newton went 1-3 during its early season stretch, but defeated then top-5 ranked Lowndes 15-14 on the road in its second game of the season.
“We just have to play Newton football for 48 minutes,” Banks said. “Making the playoffs gives us something to build on. This is our second year in a row making the postseason. No player wants to be the one that breaks that streak.”
The Rams and the Indians kickoff at 7:30 p.m.