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Wild Ram win
Late TD propels Newton past Eastside 10-3 amid controversy
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In what can only be described as a contentious final two minutes of Friday's Eastside-Newton game, The Eagles had the game won twice in the matter of seconds only to see watch the Rams steal the game on a late touchdown.

Two turnovers were awarded back to the Rams in the final minute of play Newton scored the go-ahead touchdown then held on after another controversial call for a 10-3 win.

"They got the breaks. The interception, I don't know if it was pass interference or what happened," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "The takeaway on the fumble, the ball was coming out. He wasn't down. That ball was coming out on the way down. But who knows? It is what it is."

Eastside led 3-0 with two minutes left to play before Tyrique Brown blocked a punt in the end zone then fell on it out of bounds for a safety. Deshawn McKenzie picked up a short kick and returned it to the Eastside 35 to setup Newton' final drive. That's where things went from intense to bizarre.

After a McKenzie reception moved the ball to the 28, Gmatreian Brown completed another pass over the middle but the receiver appeared to fumble it on his way to the ground. Eastside recovered and the officials initially awarded the Eagles possession before another long conference saw the ball go back to the Rams.

With new life, Brown promptly threw an interception and Eastside's Jamal Hardge returned it deep into Newton territory. The back judge threw a flag for pass interference and again the Rams averted disaster.

The third time proved to be the charm. Newton took advantage of the added field position from the interference call and Javonte Williams scored from eight yards out with 27 seconds left and after a 2-point conversion, Newton led 10-3.

"We fought field position all night," Hurst said. "We couldn't get out of our own end in the second half. That limits what we can do offensively so we had to play the field position game and they were winning. Eventually it came back to get us."

That wasn't the end of the controversy though. Eastside moved the ball to midfield on two long pass plays, one a hook and ladder play, and had a shot at a Hail Mary to force overtime. Daronte Carter picked off Cameron Boyd's pass and took it all the way down to Eastside's 5-yard line for what was certainly the game-clincher. But again the officials had a say in the events when Newton was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for the band playing music during the final play despite there being no music. The penalty should have been called two possessions earlier when the band was playing when Eastside had the ball on offense.

With another shot at a heave into the end zone, Eastside's Lance Davis got his hands on the ball and almost hauled in Boyd's pass before it fell to the ground.

"Stuff like that shouldn't happen in high school football. I'm just going to leave it at that," Newton coach Cortez Allen said. "I think we are taking away from the kids when we call things like that."

Even Newton's safety wasn't clear cut. Two Ram defenders fell on the ball at the back line of the end zone and appeared to recover it inbounds for a touchdown. But after a long discussion, the officials called it a safety.

The controversial finish overshadowed an otherwise classic county rival game highlighted by strong defense.

"Hats off to them, hats off to our kids," Hurst said. "A lot of teams would have laid down and quit in the last 20 seconds of a ball game. We came right back down the field and threw it in the end zone and had a chance to win the game."

After a swift and relatively clean first half, both teams missed opportunities to seize control in the third quarter. The Rams failed to capitalize off an Eastside fumble to open the quarter after taking over at the Eagles' 20. Eastside's defense held and Zach Sullivan pushed a 31-yard field goal right.

On Eastside's next possession, Newton linebacker Antonio Williams dropped a sure touchdown interception when he jumped a Boyd pass on the Eagles' 26 with a clear field ahead of him.

"We dropped some interceptions and I'm not pleased with that," Allen said. "If we take advantage of those opportunities, the game is over. We know what kind of team we are. I'm proud to say we're a defensive team. There's nothing wrong with that. So when we get opportunities to stop them and make big plays on defense, we have to make them."

Eastside saw a touchdown slip through its fingers when Boyd found Chase Chancey wide open in the back of the end zone but the pass was dropped. The Eagles had to settle for a 35-yard Colton Smith field goal instead.

"I told the kids, don't blame the officials," Hurst said. "They had nothing to do with it. If we catch that touchdown pass, it's ball game. It's over. That's it. If we hit that field goal, which was makeable, it's 10-0. We had our chances."

Newton's special teams play turned out to be the difference in the end and it really came as no surprise to either team. The Rams have created turnovers against punt teams in each game this season including the scrimmage while Eastside's punt game may have cost them a chance at a state title run when it gave up two safeties to Cairo last year that turned out to be the difference.

"I'm so tired of our punt team in those big situations," Hurst said. "We work on it and work on it. It isn’t the scheme. It's the fact that we have one breakdown here or one guy who breaks down in pressure situations and you can't do that."

The Rams capitalized on field position in the second half. Sullivan pinned the Eagles deep on three consecutive punts and the defense held each time and didn't allow Eastside to get beyond the 18-yard line.

On the game-changing punt block, Newton used an Eastside timeout to put in a play and it paid off.

"We didn't have any timeouts so that worked out for us," Allen said. "That gave us time to set something up and that was really big for us."

With the county games done for the year, both teams turn their focus to preparing for region play. Newton has one more game before opening Region 2-AAAAA play at home versus Newnan while Eastside opens region play Friday at Locust Grove.

"This isn't the end of the world," Hurst said. "We've talked about that the last three years. Our kids are resilient. We have bigger and better things to head on to."