Rockdale gets by Newton in overtime

Terrell McLaughlin picked the perfect time for his first catch since the opening play of the game. McLaughlin grabbed a 15-yard touchdown on Rockdale’s first possession of overtime, and the Bulldogs’ defense stopped a fourth-and-one play on the ensuing drive to defeat Newton 28-21 in Region 2-AAAAAA play at Reid Stadium.

With the victory, Rockdale moved to 5-3 overall and more importantly, evened its league mark at 2-2, while handing 3-4 Newton its first region loss in three tries.

Rockdale, which defeated Newton for the first time since 2002 - though the teams have played just three times since - got the ball first in the extra session and Keijine Thomas and Tajee Steele each were stopped for no gain on running plays. On third-and-10, Steele scrambled and found McLaughlin across the middle at the 10 and the wide out did the rest, streaking into the end zone for the go-ahead points. McLaughlin hadn’t caught a pass since a five-yard reception on Rockdale’s first offensive play of the night.

Newton got the ball having to score seven points to extend the game into a second overtime session. After quarterback Romario Johnson had runs of one and three yards and a five-yard completion to Sam Johnson to set up fourth-and-one from the 6, Atrice Hobbs was stopped at the line scrimmage for no gain, setting off a raucous celebration on the Rockdale sideline.

“We had an opportunity and we came in and the offense got the job done, the offensive coaches made some great calls tonight,” said Rockdale coach Venson Elder. “The defense stepped up man, the kids stayed in there and we eventually got it done right there at the end.”

The first big celebration for Rockdale came early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs took just 1:34 to drive 58 yards and tied the game at 21-21 on Steele’s 22-yard pass to Akwesi Mintah, who had to fight with two Rams’ safeties for the scoring grab.

Elder said that pass pattern is designed for McLaughlin, but the play went to Mintah. McLaughlin would soon find some redemption.

“If you look at the touchdown to Akwesi…that was supposed to go to Terrell, (but McLaughlin) had not been running those tight routes earlier in the game,” said Elder. “But in overtime we went back to him, we told him ‘you better catch the ball’, and once he got it he was determined to get in the end zone. It wasn’t pretty, but he got the job done. He came back and he stepped up and made a big play like we expect him to do.”

After Mintah’s touchdown, neither team could get past midfield on the next two possessions as Newton punted and Steele’s deep pass on third-and-long was intercepted by Christopher Franklin.

Newton had one final shot to take the lead with less than two minutes, but after Johnson and Hobbs connected on a seven-yard pass play for a first down to the Newton 44, Johnson threw three consecutive incompletions to force a punt with 16 seconds to play.

The game was tied at 14-14 before Newton took what turned out to be its final lead of the night.

Johnson was 2-for-3 on a quick, four-play, 76-yard drive and Rockdale helped with a 15-yard personal foul penalty - one of 10 penalties for 120 yards called on the Bulldogs - and Johnson found Deandre Huff for a 36-yard touchdown. Huff made a fantastic run after the catch, breaking three tackles and diving into the end zone to put the visitors up 21-14 with 1:40 left in the third quarter.

The teams were all even at halftime, thanks to a handful of big plays, but the opening 24 minutes were more about mistakes and turnovers.

Rockdale was penalized eight times and Newton was hit for six of its 12 penalties.

Rockdale took advantage of the first turnover of the night. Johnson had a carry into Rockdale territory, then fell on his own fumble. Johnson wasn’t as lucky two plays later as he again coughed up the ball and Rockdale’s Andrew Beyah recovered. It took the Bulldogs just six plays to grab the first lead of the game. One play after Steele hooked up with Mintah for a 60-yard completion to the Newton 1, Jaylen Davis scored from a yard out to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.

Newton answered immediately. Johnson found Davonta Jones for a 50-yard hook up to the Rockdale 24, the Rams were helped by a 15-yard pass interference penalty, and eventually tied the game on Huff’s first touchdown catch of the night from 17 yards out. On consecutive possessions, Steele was intercepted and Johnson fumbled again, but neither miscue hurt on the scoreboard.

Newton did take advantage of a poor punt by Rockdale as Johnson tossed his second touchdown of the half, this time a six-yarder to Sam Johnson.

Rockdale didn’t take long at all to get the equalizer. After a Newton pass interference penalty, T.J. Warren took a hand off on a reverse and dodged in and out of traffic for a 54-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 14-14 with 1:36 left until halftime.