It was a big Friday night all around for three of our Newton County area football teams, as Alcovy, Eastside and Newton all had postseason aspirations in their view when they took the field. The county went 2-1 with some triumph, some unlikely heroes and heartbreaking drama mixed in. Here’s our comprehensive take on the action from Friday in a special “What we learned” piece:
1. Eastside’s Spurgeon Gaither is a Division I prospect at DT. Forget the size thing. Standing at about 6-foot-1 (maybe) and 275 pounds, as Eagles coach Troy Hoff says, “If he’s 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, every program in the nation is knocking down his door.” Height isn’t something you can buy at the store or get with a workout regimen. But neither is heart and motor. And what Gaither may lack in the first category, he more than makes up for it in the latter two. His 98-yard pick six and 18-yard scoop and score show that he’s not only big lane clogging run stopper, but he’s a high IQ football player with a nose for the ball. If schools pass up on Gaither because of his height, they do so at their own peril.
2. Eastside’s running game is no fluke. Offensive coordinator, Jay Cawthon wasn’t completely pleased with the way his offense played Friday night. There were mistakes, communication errors and missed assignments galore. But one thing that was a can’t-miss was the Eastside run game. Four straight 300-plus yard performances have to have both Cawthon and Hoff feeling pretty good. “Our success there is a combination of things,” Hoff said. “Our o-line is doing good stuff, our quarterbacks are involved, our wide receivers are blocking aggressively down field, and our running backs are seeing fits and seeing lanes and taking advantage of it. It’s a team effort.”
3. Penalties were an achilles heel in heartbreaking Alcovy loss. This game was the second penalty riddled one at Sharp Stadium in the last two weeks. The refs had their hands on the yellow cloths all night long waiting to throw them on both sides. Many were questionable calls, and several were not in favor of the Tigers. At one point, the Tigers gave up a first down on two offsides penalties in a row. At another key moment in the game, Heritage’s kicker, Chaz Koeing, missed a 47-yard field goal, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave him another shot which he ultimately would make. With how close the game ended up being, you have to wonder if some of those calls ultimately are what kept Alcovy from winning the game. Regardless, Edgar will surely be working to correct the mental errors that led to the exceptional number of flags thrown.
4. Alcovy showed an insane amount of heart. Keep your head’s up, Tigers. In all my years both watching and now covering high school football, I have never seen more heart and resiliency displayed in a team, regardless of the outcome. With eight minutes in the second quarter, the Tigers were down 37-7. Heritage had all the momentum and were looking to ride out an easy win. However, slowly but surely, Alcovy crept back into the game, outscoring the Patriots 28-3, and turning a 30-point deficit into a five point one with a chance to win the game at the end. A pass that should have made its way out of bounds was hauled in in by Alcovy’s headache in the game, Jordan Young, who got his feet down just in bounds to break the hearts of Alcovy players and fans. Despite the soul crushing loss, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of if you are Alcovy. To fight all the way back in the game for it to come on a last second defensive stand speaks volumes of where the direction is going. Coach Chris Edgar is still pushing this team in the right direction.
5. Newton’s defense is LEGIT.
Anchored by standouts such as Darnell Jefferies, Elijah Godwin and Kahlil Wilcox, among many others, Newton’s defense has played at an extremely high level all year. This excellency was on display again Friday night against Shiloh from the very first snaps of the game. On Shiloh’s first play from scrimmage, Kahlil Wilcox intercepted a pass and waltzed into the end zone for a touchdown. On Shiloh’s second play from scrimmage, Jefferies snagged a poorly executed screen pass and took it to the house for another pick six. These two plays alone would have been enough for the win as the Rams shutout Shiloh 37-0. The Rams also blocked a field goal, and forced a fumble as they completely stifled Shiloh’s offense, displaying legit playoff level defense.
6. Despite the season’s adversity, the Rams are going to the playoffs.
With their win against Shiloh Friday night, the Rams punched their ticket to the GHSA Class AAAAAAA state playoffs for the sixth straight year. With senior quarterback Myron Middlebrooks possibly making a return for the postseason, Newton, if reasonably healthy, can do some serious damage in the playoffs behind their dynamic offense and stifling defense. Newton is currently has the No. 3 seed in the region locked down, and could potentially face Brookwood, Norcross or Parkview in the first round of the playoffs.
*Gabriel Stovall, Matthew Grimes and Tyler Williams contributed to this report.