COVINGTON, Ga. — It’s rivalry week in Newton County.
One week after blowing past Alcovy, 27-0, in their season opener, the Newton Rams will return to Sharp Stadium this Friday to square off against another county foe in the Eastside Eagles. Both clubs will be coming into the matchup at 1-0, as the Eagles showcased a dominant rushing attack in a 27-14 win at Winder-Barrow last Friday night.
Newton leads the all-time series, but by the narrowest of margins. Through 16 meetings with the Eagles, the Rams have gone 8-7-1 — the lone tie coming in an epic 2016 battle that saw the teams knotted up at 41 points after 48 minutes of regulation. Newton has won two of its last three games against Eastside in dominant fashion, however, outscoring its rival 102-34 over the past three seasons.
Last fall, despite opening the campaign with a 45-0 dismantling of Alcovy, the Rams went into their second game of the season against Eastside with concerns about cleaning up their play. They triumphed over the Tigers in spite of themselves, constantly having to make up for penalties and mistakes.
This past Friday night, following another shutout of Alcovy that featured an abundance of self-inflicted wounds along the way, second-year head coach Camiel Grant Jr. was singing a similar tune.
“Can we just go back to the first game we played last year? That was the exact same thing,” Grant said. “That was just sloppy. Poor execution in terms of our focus. We had too much selfish play, and a lot of that selfish play led to some of those penalties. We had too many coaching mistakes. We’ve just got a lot of work to do to get ready for Eastside.”
Newton repeatedly positioned itself behind the proverbial 8-ball against the Tigers. On the Rams’ first drive of the night, they had a 10-yard rushing touchdown called back due to a holding penalty. Despite working their way inside the Alcovy 5-yard line late in the second quarter, they ultimately turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert a 4th and Goal from the 30.
Drive after drive, quarter after quarter, the little mistakes piled up.
While the miscues didn’t cost the Rams a victory, they understand they’ll need much better execution in order to escape games with wins down the road.
There was still plenty upside in Newton’s win, of course. Senior star Nyland Green put on a show, scoring on a 72-yard receiving touchdown in the first half before opening the second with a 97-yard kickoff return for a score. The defensive line was dominant as well, setting up camp in Alcovy’s backfield and keeping constant pressure on the quarterback while stifling the run game.
“Tremendous effort by those guys up front,” Grant said.
The Rams will need another remarkable performance from the defensive unit this Friday if they hope to slow down Eastside. The Eagles almost had two 200-yard rushers in Friday night’s win, as Dallas Johnson rushed for 216 yards and a score on 23 carries while Since Johnson finished with 187 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 24 rushes.
“We were able to come out and establish the run game. And the old adage is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Eastside head coach Troy Hoff said with a laugh this week. “We were able to get them in some situations and some looks we liked, and our backs were coming downhill and running the ball physical. When you run for that many yards, that’s a full team effort.”
Hoff was ecstatic about the performance his team produced, but downplayed the importance of an individual victory in a season. Like any good coach, his favorite win is the next one, so he’ll be sure to prevent the Eagles from resting on their laurels after a stellar outing in the opener.