Langston Hughes ( 3- 1) comes to Sharp Stadium Thursday for a 7 p. m. kickoff, facing its former Region 2- AAAAA contemporary in Newton ( 0- 3). Newton has won the previous two meetings, beating Langston Hughes 42- 6 in 2010 and 23- 3 in 2011.
“They’re a very athletic team,” Newton coach Cortez Allen said. “Defensively, we have to maintain our discipline; we have to look to get after them and cause some havoc in their backfield and cause some turnovers for us.
“Offensively, we have to stay on track and have to minimize mistakes, stay disciplined and not have costly penalties to get us off drives.”
The Rams’ defense will be going against a spread offense out of the shotgun, which operates under what Allen dubs “fun and gun.”
The defense has been among Newton’s strongest points in its first three games, despite all of them coming for loss.
The Rams fell 31- 7 to Valdosta Friday with Kingsley Ejike tallying 17 tackles, including one for loss and Duronte Carter recording 16 tackles.
The aspect of Newton’s game that most needs to improve in order for the Rams to break into the win column is the offense, which will have another difficult challenge Thursday.
The Panthers have allowed just 9.5 points per game, including a shutout against Rockdale on Friday.
In its only loss, Langston Hughes gave up 17 points to Wheeler on Sept. 14.
The Panthers three victories have equaled its win total from last season, in which it gave up 30 points per game.
Hughes runs a 4- 3 defense led by linebacker Justin Brown and Andrekay Askew.
“It’s something that we’re pretty familiar with,” Allen said. “We’ll try to get after it and force some things we feel like they don’t do well and do some things we feel are our strong suits.”
Newton discovered one of those strong suits in Valdosta, as James Hardeman got his first start at running back and delivered with a 123- yard, one touchdown performance.
He scored the Rams only touchdown of the year on an 82- yard run after he powered through the Wildcats’ defensive line.
“He runs with a different demeanor than what we’ve had in the past,” Allen said. “He runs with a great deal of power and he’s very explosive as Valdosta can attest too. Once he gets in the open field, it’s going to be hard to catch him.”
Hardeman most likely will also be joined by Darius Dean who is returning from an injury, but will still maintain his starting spot.
“We’re really excited about what he was able to do last week and we look for him to continue down that road,” Allen said. “Just to see that kid perform and his work ethic and his demeanor running the ball gives our offense hope and gives our quarterback confidence.”
Also giving the Rams confidence will be the return to Sharp Stadium as a home team for the first time this season. After not being able to play on their home turf for three weeks, returning to the familiar confines could give the Rams another boost en route to its first victory.
“Things have been a little different than what our kids have been used to,” Allen said. “It will bring some normalcy, and hopefully they can stay focused and be ready to play some ball.”