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Rams hurt themselves in 36-21 loss in playoff opener

Newton defensive back Isaiah Fassett (30) brings down McEachern’s Taj Griffin (7) after a 13-yard gain. Newton’s defense held the Indians running game to 106 yards in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs on Friday at Homer Sharp Stadium. (Staff photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith)

Newton defensive back Isaiah Fassett (30) brings down McEachern’s Taj Griffin (7) after a 13-yard gain. Newton’s defense held the Indians running game to 106 yards in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs on Friday at Homer Sharp Stadium. (Staff photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith)

COVINGTON — Newton’s offense did just as much to stop themselves as McEachern’s defense turning the ball over six times and being penalized 11 times as the Indians advanced to the second round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs after their 36-21 win on Friday at Homer Sharp Stadium.

The Rams (5-6) put the ball in the air completing 19 of their 47 passes. Unfortunately, they also had four interceptions. Their running game was never able to gain much traction running the 28 times but putting it on the ground twice.

Newton could have had more than the 19 receptions if they had not dropped the ball. Rams receivers had the ball hit their hands six times but failed to bring it in.

“The difference is their players caught the ball and mine didn’t and that’s point blank,” Newton head coach Terrance Banks said. “That’s something we’re going to have to work on in the off season.”

Something else that kept Newton’s offense from clicking was the injury of starting quarterback Romario Johnson leaving the game midway in the second quarter after getting hit following a completion to Atrice Hobbs for a first down. He tried to came back in the final series on the half but did not return in the second half.

Taking over the Rams were wide receiver Davonta Jones and sophomore backup quarterback Bubba Hickson.

“My young guys are young guys for a reason. It’s different when you go into your first varsity game and it’s the playoffs. Bubba did an admirable job to put the ball in so many hands. He can’t catch the ball and we had a lot of drops,” Banks said.

Before returning receiver where he caught five passes for 66 yards with a touchdown, Jones went 2-for-7 including a six-yard touchdown to Deandre Huff.

One thing Banks was not going to allow was let the Indians (9-2) Taj Griffin and the running game beat them by putting nine defenders in the box. His plan worked as the Rams defense held McEachern’s explosive running game to 106 yards and three rushing touchdowns with Griffin running for 27 on seven carries and was kept out of the endzone.

However, freshman quarterback Bailey Hockman was able to beat the Rams defenders passing for 220 yards and two passing touchdowns both coming inside the final minute of the first half.

“I told my defensive staff that if McEachern threw the ball for 300 yards I would walk across the field and shake their hands because that’s what they do. They average less than 150 passing,” Banks said. “They beat us doing something they don’t do, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Of Hockman’s 10 completions, five were for 20 yards or more including a 30-yard touchdown to Andrew Heyward with 45 seconds left in the first half. Hockman also had a six-yard touchdown which was set up be a 58-yard pass to Omarian Taylor.

“We took that chance trying to make plays; trying to change the game and we got snake bitten in the last minute of the first half,” Banks said. “When you put nine in the box you’re basically saying throw it on me and they said okay let’s throw it on them. A couple of bat downs and the game is different.”

Newton had a chance to early in the game when Huff caught a touchdown pass with 6:26 left in the opening half making it 15-7. But the two late touchdowns gave the Indians a 29-7 halftime lead.

The Rams started on the second period making a statement that they were not going down as Huff had a 95-yard kickoff return. But penalties and turnover hurt their chances to keep the momentum. Newton finished the game with 21 penalties for 156 yards.

The Rams closed the gap to make it 36-21 with a three-yard touchdown by Hickman to Jones with 25 seconds left to play.