COVINGTON — Coming into the final game of the regular season, the Newton Rams and Rockdale Bulldogs were heading into two different directions.
After starting the season 4-0, the Bulldogs entered play Friday night riding a five-game losing streak while the Rams had already managed to secure a playoff game in next Friday’s first round.
With Rockdale fighting for pride and Newton fighting for confidence heading into next week’s playoffs, It was the Rams who came out victorious with a 28-14 victory over the rival Bulldogs.
“This is big for the community and the kids enjoy it,” Rams head coach Camiel Grant said about winning the rivalry trophy. “For me, it’s just coming out here and doing our job and getting another win.”
As for Rockdale’s Jamie Baldwin, the second-year head coach was proud of the effort, who played the Rams to a 14-all tie at halftime.
“My guys played hard, that’s all I can ask for,” Baldwin said. “We had an opportunity to win the game. We just came up short.”
The Rams came out the gate with a big run from Josh Hardeman for 36 yards, but couldn’t find any more offense on the series. Rockdale also started off slow on their first offensive series, only gaining three yards of offense.
Both teams began to settle down on their next offensive possession. Newton lost four yards on their first two plays, but on third-and-14, senior quarterback Neal Howard aired the ball out to Diondre Glover down the sideline for 53 yards and a touchdown to put the Rams up 7-0.
The Bulldogs made sure to respond on their next drive and started it off with a 26-yard scurry from quarterback Chandler Peters. After using his legs, Peters dropped down a 30-yard pass to receiver Jaionte McMillan to set them up at the Rams 25-yard line.
After a false start on the offense, Peter delivered another 30-yard pass, but this one went to Darren Stephens who scored to tie the game.
After forcing a three-and-out of the Rams, the Bulldogs were back at it again and put points on the board. Stephens continued to be a mismatch problem for the Rams corners, catching a 41-yard pass downfield to the Rams 15-yard line. Five plays later, Peters sneaked the ball in for a one-yard score to give the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead.
Like their first touchdown, it only took Newton three plays to score and tie the game, and again it was Glover with a 54-yard score down the left sideline.
The Rams began to hurt themselves with two penalties on the Bulldogs’ ensuing drive that continued to help drive them down the field.
“I’m frustrated about that, and we’re going to deal with that next week,” Grant said. “That’s something plagued us early in the season and I felt like we had got to a point where that was probably going to be behind us.”
With 1:24 left in the half and on the Rams 17-yard line, Peters threw an interception in the end zone that was caught by Nyland Green. The Rams took a knee and went into the half tied at 14-all.
The Rams defense came out and bulldozed the Bulldogs offense in the second half. They continued to pressure Peters and forced him into bad situations with a mixture of incomplete passes and sacks.
“We gave up some big plays throughout the game, but we did a good job of stuffing the run and that’s where it starts,” Grant said. “We put pressure on the quarterback and he didn’t have a lot of time to throw. That’s the backbone of what we do.”
On Newton’s first possession of the second half, Howard was firing on all cylinders. He threw back-to-back passes of 21 and 19 yards to Jerrol Hines and Devon Holmes.
A 17-yard pass to Glover put the Rams at the one-yard line, but a costly illegal substitution penalty sent them back to the 16-yard line. That didn’t stop them, however, and two plays layer Howard found his favorite target Glover for his third touchdown of the game and put the Rams up 21-14.
“The last three weeks Neal has played extremely well,” Grant said. “He had chance tonight to go over 2,000 yards and I think he probably accomplished that. His leadership and his ability to get us in and out of bad plays, and rallying the guys, he’s doing a tremendous job.”
Newton forced another three-and-out on the Bulldogs next possession to force a punt, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Bulldogs the ball back. The penalty didn’t help them out and they were quickly forced to punt again.
To start the fourth quarter, the Rams picked off Peters for the second time in the game, and it was caught by Green again.
Newton stalled out on their next offensive drive, however, giving the Bulldogs possibly their last shot at tying the game up at 21.
Starting from their own 21-yard line, Stephens caught two big passes for 45 and 25 yards, setting the Bulldogs up at the Rams 10-yard line. After missing on three opportunities to score, the Bulldogs were forced to go for it on fourth-and-13 with 4:24 left in the game.
Peters dropped back to pass and was intercepted again.
After returning the ball down to the Bulldogs 25-yard line, Newton milked the clock and Quincy Cullins put the cap on the game with a one-yard score with 1:09 left in the game.
The Rams will go into next week with confidence as they are set to face Mill Creek in the first round of the playoffs.”
“We always tell them you have 24 hours to enjoy the win, and that’s not going to change,” Grant said. “But I want them to understand we did not play our best football game tonight. This is not the best version of Newton football.”