on their third drive when Middlebrooks found Mike Mathison wide open across the middle of the field for a 24-yard scoring strike that gave Newton a 6-0 lead at the 5:03 mark of the first quarter.
South Gwinnett tried to answer with a long drive of its own, but the nine-play march was stopped short after Newton halted the Comets on a 4th and 3 pass play that gained two and a half yards.
Newton’s defense stiffened again, forcing a South Gwinnett three-and-out, and the Rams responded with a 17-play, 98-yard drive that was capped by Jerrol Hines’ seven yard touchdown reception that stretched Newton’s lead to 13-0 with 3:45 left before halftime.
On that drive, Nuru Tinch had gains of eight and 16 yards. It would be the most action he would get Friday night, as Banks sat his star tailback in the second half with what he said was an upset stomach.
“We’ve got lots of stuff going on back at the school with stomach viruses and stuff,” Banks said. “We thought he was good, but he had some symptoms at half time. So we sat him. We know what (Adarius Thomas) can do.”
Thomas helped fill the void with his 70 rushing yards on 14 carries and four catches for 71 receiving yards and a score he tacked on late in the game. Thomas said he was proud to be able to deliver when called upon.
“It feels good to help my team and contribute,” Thomas said. “It’s our first win on the board (for region play). That always feels good.”
Newton’s 13-0 lead would take them into halftime, and kicker Victor Pinedo added a 19-yard field goal to climax Newton’s first drive of the third quarter.
South Gwinnett finally found the scoreboard late in the third quarter when quarterback Antwon Hunter hooked up with Amin Hall for a 60-yard scoring toss, cutting Newton’s lead to 16-6. But Jefferies and company would make sure the Comets’ momentum would be short lived.
After that touchdown, South Gwinnett would find little offense the rest of the way. And Newton tacked on two more scores — one, a 27-yard strike to Jerrol Hines that gave Newton a 23-8 advantage, and the other, a 21-yard toss to Thomas that provided the final margin with 4:52 left in regulation.
The win raised Newton’s record to 5-1 and 1-0 in region play, and marked the third straight region opener the Rams have won.
Afterward, Banks couldn’t stop raving about how pleased he was with his team’s performance, fresh off a 48-17 win at Heritage and just two weeks removed from the 57-0 debacle at No. 2 Lowndes.
“I tell our kids three things: Play the next play, it don’t matter what happens — get better, and your response to whatever happens to you determines the outcome,” Banks said. “We lost to Lowndes, but since then, they forgot about it and they’ve just played the next game and the next play ever since. I love these boys and I’m very proud of them.”
And he’s also ready to see if his bunch can redeem themselves against another ranked opponent when No. 3 Archer (50, 0-0) comes to town next Saturday after a bye week this past Friday.
Banks says there will be no need for a lot of rah-rah and hype speeches for that one.
“We don’t have to, because we know we don’t get any respect,” he said. “Not from the AJC, no coaches poll, nobody who writes for all these outlets. Check on Thursday. It’ll be Archer plus 20, because they’re No. 3 in the state and we got blown out by Lowndes. That’s all they’re gonna be talking about, so I don’t have to tell my boys anything. They’re gonna be ready to go.”