Keeping emotions in check could be difference is rival game

Newton’s offense practices their passing plays during Wednesday’s practice as they prepared for tonight’s 7:30 game against county-rival Eastside. (Staff photo: Manny Fils)

Newton’s offense practices their passing plays during Wednesday’s practice as they prepared for tonight’s 7:30 game against county-rival Eastside. (Staff photo: Manny Fils)

COVINGTON — For a game that has no playoff implications, the 12th meeting of the Eastside-Newton game continues to be a must-win for all involved as the two clash today at 7:30 p.m. at Homer Sharp Stadium.

“That is a goal and want to do that but that’s not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to win a region championship and put us in a chance to win state. Beating them is great, but we want our kids to know that if we don’t it’s not the end of the world. That’s going to be hard for them to understand when they see 6,000 people there,” said Eastside head coach Rick Hurst, who is coaching his ninth Eastside-Newton game.

The Rams, who lost the first meeting 14-7, leads the series 6-5. In their last meeting, the Eagles totally shut down the Newton offense with a 32-0 dominating win. But prior to last season, it was the Rams who had Eastside’s number winning three straight.

“When you lose a rivalry either by a point or a really big blowout, the next year everything is intense,” first-year Newton head coach Terrance Banks said. “It’s not the most important thing in the world, but it’s the most important thing now. We haven’t hit anybody yet. So for the first person you hit is a rival, that makes it all the more perfect.”

One thing that this game is going to see is a lot of youth on both sides of the ball. The Eagles have 38 freshman on their team including a starter and several that could see action. All this inexperience gives Hurst some concern about his team as they hit the field in a big rivalry game.

“We don’t know how we’re going to do and that’s the biggest uncertainty,” Hurst said. “I know our kids are going to play hard but you don’t know about execution with all the new players we’ve got and how well they’re going to play.

For Eastside to tie the series, a lot is going to depend on how well the offense can move the ball and keep Newton’s experienced defense on their heals.

“We need to produce some first downs and get some points on the board. Their defense is probably their strong suit and our offense is our strong suit because we have more people starting there than what we did last year,” Hurst said. “I tell our kids it’s going to come down to conditioning and who makes the mistake last and who can capitalize on it.”

The Rams were hoping to run a high-energy, fast-paced offense. But late change in personnel could slow things down giving Eastside’s defense a chance to rest between plays and move players in and out.

Both of Newton’s personnel changes are key positions as they are replacing a three-year starting center, who left the team without warning, and last year’s quarterback junior Kemani Pittman.

Taking charge of the offensive line will be 6-foot, 4-inch, 300-pounder Corey Thomas. He will now be snapping the ball to sophomore quarterback Ramario Johnson.

“He’s the best player on our team and there’s no doubt in my opinion. He was probably going to play center at the collegiate level so this just gives him an early start,” Banks said of Thomas.

Johnson proved to Banks that he should be the quarterback with not only his playing ability, but his knowledge of the game at such an early age. However, that does not mean Pittman will not end the game. But for now the position belongs to the sophomore.

“The thing that he did was to emerge himself deeply in the playbook and that’s what a coach wants,” Banks said. “(Wednesday) in practice I forgot to put something that goes with a play and he knew it belonged there. He told me I think you forgot this and I can’t run this play without that. To me, that was the light bulb that went off in my head that we have the right young man doing the things that he needed to be a position to start.”

Without having played a scrimmage game, Banks does not know exactly how his team will react once the lights come on and the ball is kicked off. A key for a Newton victory is to limit the penalties and mistakes.

“As far as team speed, this is probably the bets collection of football players I have coached and probably the best program I have seen. But it’s a team thing. Will I get all 11 guys to run to the ball? Will my offense get called for penalties? How will my special teams look? If we run to the ball on defense and limit the penalties on offense I think we’ll experience a lot of success in the game.”