Rams face Jaguars in opener

COVINGTON - It's not like Newton linebackers DJ Hill and Antonio Williams need the added pressure, but stopping Stephenson's power running game is going to depend on them when the two teams clash at 7:30 tonight at Homer Sharp Stadium.

"This is going to be a huge game for them. The key to stopping the wing-T is your linebacker play," Newton coach Nick Collins said. "Your linemen have minimal responsibilities because of pulling and things of that nature, but the two linebackers are the ones that are going to have to set each other up to make plays. Our success is going to depend a lot on what happens with those two."

Stephenson enters its Region 2-AAAAA opener with a 3-0 record, scoring 144 points while holding their first two opponents scoreless. The Jaguars ran the ball for 500 yards and only threw for 122 against McNair and Columbia in their first two games.

Leading the way for the Jaguars on the ground are Raymond Sanders and Willie Davis. Sanders is averaging 87 yards per game and has four touchdowns followed by Davis, who is averaging 74 yards a game with two TDs.

"They were so much better than the two teams they played to start the season with and they were up so quick that they didn't have to throw the football," Collins said. "Against Ware County, they threw a little bit because they were in the ball game until midway through the fourth quarter. But they're so talented in the backfield that they if don't have to throw, they won't."

Even though Stephenson has only given 13 points in three games, all by Ware County, Collins feels his team has a good chance of success.

"We can move the ball against them and be effective in moving the ball. I'm not overly concerned about the other team's inability to score as I am about our ability to score," he said.

The reason for Collins' optimism is he feels his team is much improved from last season. In fact, Collins felt his squad should have beaten Stephenson on the road last year.

"If you look at the game and you take away one questionable call, two punt returns and a fumble, we're in the ball game 7-7. We did not give up a sustainable touchdown drive," Collins said. "They got a fumble inside our five and they drove it three yards for a touchdown. But outside of that, they were not very effective against us defensively. That gives us reason to think that with our improved defense and now our much improved offense we're as competitive as we need to be.

"This is a huge game for us. It is the opening of the region and you always want to jump out ahead in the hunt for the region championship or one of those four playoff spots. Our thing is we want to play at home if we make it to the playoffs. In order to do that, we have to beat M.L. King, Union Grove or Stephenson. Since they're the first one, we may as well beat them."

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

· Who: Stephenson Jaguars (3-0) at Newton Rams (2-1)

· Where: Homer Sharp Stadium

· When: 7:30 p.m. today

· Last week: Stephenson beat Ware County 34-13; Newton had a bye

· Series: Stephenson leads 5-0

· Last season: Stephenson won 25-7