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Scrimmage win against Columbia gives Newton a prime chance to evaluate
Adarius Thomas
Newton running back Adarius Thomas bolts toward the end zone for a 65-yard score on the game's first play from scrimmage. - photo by Anthony Banks

COVINGTON, Ga. — In a scrimmage game that meant even less in the grand scheme of things than a non-region contest, the Newton Rams defeated Columbia 28-16. Saturday night at Sharp Stadium.

But the bigger win perhaps was the fact that coach Terrance Banks finally got a chance to see his guys with pads on and playing in real time. 

Although the Georgia High School Association’s mandated first day of full pads contact was August 1, three days of rain across the Atlanta metro area hampered Newton’s ability to take advantage of those first days. So it stands to reason that Banks was upbeat after the game. 

“We had some good effort,” he said. “We made a lot of mistakes. We tried some stuff. Since it’s a scrimmage, we tried a lot of different things, and we have a lot of mistakes to correct, but we’re not down or sad or anything.” 

Banks definitely didn’t have much to be sad about in regard to his ongoing quarterback battle. Both junior Neal Howard and senior LT Stowers got a pretty even split of the action against the Eagles, and both signal callers showed some flashes. 

LT Stowers
Senior quarterback LT Stowers (19) gets ready to launch a pass during Saturday night's scrimmage win against Columbia. Stowers threw touchdown passes in the game. - photo by Anthony Banks

Statistically, Stowers led the night, completing 4 of 8 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. But he also tossed a late-game interception. Meanwhile, Howard went 4-for-9 with 71 yards, and did a pretty good job keeping his composure while fielding a litany of high snaps.

“Both of them did really well,” Banks said. “(Columbia) sent a lot of pressure and sent some man, and we didn’t necessarily call a ton of man beaters. We just wanted to see what our quarterbacks could do, and I was very impressed by how both of them played.” 

Banks also acknowledged that neither quarterback, despite the solid performances, didn’t do much  to create much separation from each other. 

“I don’t know if the decision gets any easier after tonight,” Banks said. “It’ll be a epic of conversation every day, all the way up until the 17th.” 

Stowers called his performance a bit of a mixed bag, but was glad to get his first bit of playing time under the Sharp Stadium lights. 

“It was a good experience to be out here and play in this atmosphere,” Stowers said. “I really had fun out here playing with the guys.” 

Stowers showed off his big arm on both of his touchdown passes — the first one coming on an 80-yard bomb to sophomore Diondre Glover that gave Newton a 14-0 lead toward the end of the first quarter. 

Diondre Glover
Sophomore wideout Diondre Glover is off to the race on his way to an 80-yard touchdown reception from quarterback LT Stowers. - photo by Anthony Banks

“I just rolled out and tried to avoid the pressure, and I saw him wide open in the middle of the field,” he said. “I took the opportunity and he scored a touchdown.” 

On his second scoring toss, Stowers threw open Mike Mathison on a comeback route, and Mathison snagged the ball and jogged into the end zone untouched for a 28-yard touchdown. 

The arm strength to make such throws is something Stowers believes can give Newton an added dimension to its offense. 

“I have a big arm, and I’ve worked on a lot of that,” he said. “I feel like that’ll be good for this team.” 

He also had a nice run on a zone-read play, and although he showed ample speed, Stowers said he’s more comfortable in the pocket. 

“I’m much more of a thrower,” he said. 

Although the Newton arms were on display, the Rams’ tailbacks also got in a good share of work. In fact, it was Adarius Thomas who opened the scoring by darting 65 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game from scrimmage. 

Josh Hardeman also looked solid as he slashed his way through the Columbia defense on several hard-charging carries, including a 20 yarder negated by a holding call. Several plays after that, Hardeman would find the end zone on an 18-yard scamper that gave Newton a 21-6 lead with 9:34 left in the first half. 

“I felt good about Hardeman going into it,” Banks said. “He scored three touchdowns toward the end of last season, so if somebody didn’t know he could play, then that’s on them, not us. We were confident in what we were gonna get with him. We just wanted to rotate those guys and see what we can work on.” 

Josh Hardeman
Newton junior tailback Josh Hardeman scoots in from 18 yards untouched for the score. - photo by Anthony Banks

With the August 17 season opener with Alcovy now less than two weeks away, Banks said the scrimmage gives him and his coaching staff a chance to put the microscope on some things in a different way. 

“Now that we’ve had a scrimmage, I think both sides are gonna start simplifying some stuff, watch the film and hone in on who we think is definitely gonna play,” he said. “Then we’ll simplify things to make sure they’ve got it and then build from there. The fantastic news is we’ve got five more scrimmage games to work things out (non-region) before it really counts.” 

Newton-Columbia extra points

New kicker could be potential asset 

As mentioned, Banks said one of his goals for Saturday’s scrimmage was to try things that they normally wouldn’t try in a game that means something to the standings. His experimentation gave him a chance to insert sophomore kicker Abdiel Velasquez into the game to attempt his first field goal. 

While with possession of the ball with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game, Banks called time out and trotted his kick team out to give Velasquez a chance to boot a 58-yard field goal. Although he was nailing kicks from as far as 40 yards during warm-ups, Banks said it wasn’t about him seeing if he could make it. Rather, just helping him get those first-kick jitters out of the way. 

Abdiel Velasquez
Sophomore kicker Abdiel Velasquez could be a major special teams asset for Newton this year. - photo by Anthony Banks

“He’s a sophomore who’s never kicked under the lights before,” Banks said. “I was going to attempt it no matter the distance just to give me a chance. I mean, it was a scrimmage game, so you can try that kind of stuff.” 

Glover shows knack for the big play

One of the more exciting Newton underclassmen showed people at least two examples of why so many folks are excited to see him come into his own. 

Diondre Glover caught the aforementioned 80-yarder for a touchdown, yes, but he also snagged a fumbled lateral from Columbia which eventually set up a Newton score. Many have been raving about the kind of player Glover can become, and if Saturday was any indication, the next few years watching him develop as a player should be fun.  

The good with the bad

Stowers stated he had some things to work on despite the good showing in his first official action as a Newton quarterback. One play he may want to have back is an attempted deep ball down the left sideline to Mathison who had a little more than a half step on the corner covering him and was streaking toward the end zone. The only problem is Stowers looked at Mathison all the way down the field which gave the Columbia safety a chance to read his eyes and move in front of Mathison for a pick. 

Had Stowers been able to look the safety off, that deep ball may have went for another score. 

Calling his name

If you were at the game Saturday and felt like you were hearing the name Tyon Bigby a lot, it's because you were. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior defensive end was in on several tackles for losses, including a pair of quarterback sacks. 

He's a part of looks to be a leaner, yet faster front seven than what the Rams sported last year. It's possible that Bigby could figure into the Rams plans for pressure situations.