After everything, injuries, penalties, bad plays on defense, miscues on offense last year’s Cinderella team, Newton, was nine yards away from tying the game at 31 and eight yards away from a first down with 3:34 to play on fourth down.
It was a called pass play, but senior quarterback Romario Johnson didn’t see anybody open so he pulled it and ran left. He cut and ran toward the marker, a defender met Johnson before he got to the marker and he was tackled one yard short of the first.
“We had a chance. We were down here. What else can you ask for. I can’t wait to see the film. I think he made it. What else can you ask for,” Terrance Banks, Newton head coach, said.
Collins Hill had the ball at their own two-yard line with just more than three minutes to play and Newton was down to just two timeouts.
The Rams, though their chances were slim, still had a chance. On 3rd-and-11 backed up to their own one-yard line, Collins Hill QB Monty Horn found Canyon Slade for 34 yards and the first down, beating Newton in its man coverage.
The Eagles would get another first down and that would do it. Eagles just get by Rams, 31-24.
For two teams that mirror each other on offense, especially a Newton team that scored on almost all of its possessions against East Coweta last week, the first half of this second round playoff contest was all defense. Newton and Collins Hill combined for less than 210 yards of total offense in the first half. Of the Rams’ six possessions in the first half, three were three-and-outs.
“Dog fight, man, it’s the playoffs. It ain’t always gonna be pretty. I was out of rhythm and it kind of affected them and we were out of rhythm. We just weren’t in sync. We dropped some balls, got some ticky-tack calls, but that’s no excuse. I didn’t do what I needed to do to put my boys in position to win, man,” Banks said.
Newton was able to move the ball some, but not much and was aided by three-straight penalties worth 45 yards on the Rams’ only touchdown drive of the half that saw Johnson connect with Deandre Huff from four yards out to take a 10-9 lead. It wasn’t just excellent defense from Collins Hill, although they played well, but Newton had a number of miscues on offense. Dropped passes hurt the Rams and stalled momentum on drives, but their defense kept them in the game. Tay Gowan and Quentin Dixon were huge in the secondary.
Momentum was on Collins Hill’s side early as Slade returned the opening kickoff over 70 yards to the Newton 17. Horn found Des Howard for the 18-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage, but Newton was able to block the point after attempt and they trailed 6-0 early.
On Newton’s second play from scrimmage, Johnson hit Jeremiah Holloman on a short slant route for about five yards that turned into a 41-yard pickup after Holloman got loose and broke a tackle. The Rams weren’t able to get in from inside the 10-yard line and settled for a Nick Munoz-Ramirez field goal.
Dixon intercepted a Horn pass on 4th-and-2 with the Eagles deep in Ram territory. The Rams couldn’t do much on offense and the Eagles got the ball back at the Newton 17 and the Rams defense held and forced the Eagles to take a field goal, which was good for a 9-3 lead.
Newton answered with its only touchdown drive of the half, and after getting the ball back with Huff returning it to the Newton 40-yard line Newton went three-and-out with what looked like a costly loss at QB.
With less than nine minutes left in the second quarter up 10-9, Romario Johnson and Banks walked off the field in lockstep. Johnson in pain, favoring his left shoulder after a spinning tackle took him down on the play. However, Johnson returned for the next drive, but the drive stalled and the Rams went into halftime up 10-9.
Newton came out and scored on its third drive to go up 17-9 after Kurt Taylor set up Newton with a 55-yard run and scored from five yards out.
With the help of a personal foul penalty, on the ensuing possession Collins Hill took four plays to score and tie the game with a two-point conversion with 5:57 to play in the third quarter. The Rams would go three-and-out and the Eagles responded with a 47-yard touchdown run to go up 24-17.
After another Newton drive stalled, Collins Hill scored again. On fourth-and-two a fake punt run fooled the entire Rams’ defense and the Eagles ran over 20 yards to the Newton 33-yard line. The Eagles scored from 33 yards out on the next play to take a 14-point lead with 7:54 to play.
Banks gathered his team together and gave one of those speeches you see in the movies. The team rallied to score a quick touchdown to bring the game within one possession (31-24) with 6:08 to play. Of course, it wasn’t in the cards for Newton and they fell to Collins Hill, 31-24.
“I love these seniors, man. Absolutely love these seniors. For everything everybody told me couldn’t happen when I got to Covington, these boys couldn’t go to the third round, they couldn’t host a game, they couldn’t go FBS, for every shortcoming they said these boys might have, they proved them wrong,” Banks said. “I love these boys. I enjoyed every game I went to battle with these boys. I love ‘em. I just can’t thank them enough. I just want them to know they need to keep holding their heads up because it’s not the end. You’re gonna read about some of these guys later.”