Early on it appeared that visiting Newberry might set the tone against Eastside on Thursday night at Citizen’s Field.
The Panthers’ Mike Moore returned the opening kickoff 52 yards to the Eastside 38-yard line. However, the Rams defense held, forcing an incomplete pass on 4th-and-6 at the 34-yard line.
It was that kind of night but in the end, Newberry would spoil the Rams’ homecoming game with a 28-14 road win in an ugly game that was marred by over 25 penalties.
“That was a tough one for us,” Newberry coach Ed Johnson said. “The crowd was in it; it was very loud in here. It was something that we needed, short week. I’m just happy we could come out and get a win.”
On its second possession the Panthers marched 38 yards to the Rams’ 23-yard line. However, Ryan Armstrong missed a 39-yard field goal.
Newberry wouldn’t be denied the third time it had the ball.
The Panthers (4-3) took over at their 19-yard line late in the first quarter. A few plays later, junior quarterback Trae Butler completed a 41-yard pass to Perrion Sylvester to the Rams’ 9-yard line.
On the next play, freshman Keenon Johnson scored on a 9-yard run. The extra point was blocked but Newberry took the first lead at 6-0 with 10:18 to play in the second quarter.
A couple of possessions later, the Rams (0-7) took their first and only lead of the game following a 5-play, 60-yard drive.
Junior quarterback Holden Johnson threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to senior Andre Bradford. Caleb Dressel’s extra point gave Eastside a 7-6 lead with 4:42 to play until halftime.
Newberry answered thanks to a fake punt.
On their next possession, the Panthers faced a 4th-and-5 at the Rams’ 47-yard line.
Junior Bryce Russell ran around right end and navigated his way to the middle of the field for a 35-yard run, giving the Panthers a first down at the Rams’ 12-yard line.
“Bryce is the hardest working kid that we’ve got in the program,” Johnson said. “A kid I love and I’m happy to see him have some success with that. It’s something we’ve had in our back pocket all year and we’ve been waiting for the right time to get it. We were kind of struggling offensively so it was something to try and get us going. Bryce made a big play with his teammates getting some blocks.”
Two plays later, senior Riley Hester operated out of the Wildcat and rushed up the middle for a 9-yard score with just 27 seconds to play in the half. Butler completed the 2-point pass play to Sylvester for a 14-7 lead at the half.
On the first drive of the second half, Johnson was intercepted by Newberry’s Te’veon Tate at the Panthers’ 46-yard line and the senior returned it to the Eastside 45-yard line.
Newberry capped a 45-yard scoring drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Butler to Sylvester for what proved to be the game-winning score and a 21-7 lead with 7:37 to play in the third quarter.
“Trae has been growing week by week and it’s something that we’re happy to see, and he’s allowed us to focus on just one quarterback,” Johnson said. “And Perrion is just a physical nightmare. He’s big, he’s tall, he’s strong, he’s fast, and he’s got great hands so when those two are on the same page it’s hard for high school cornerbacks to defend that.”
Sylvester, who was named the Sonic Drive-In Player-of-the-Game, also added an interception on the next drive, picking off Johnson at the Newberry 2-yard line.
“The key was locking up on D,” Sylvester said. “We’ve been practicing that (interceptions) all week and we got the job done.”
Eastside was able to drive 56 yards, highlighted by a 34-yard pass from Johnson to Micah Hudson to give the Rams a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line.
On 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, junior Darrien Smith-Williams rushed it in to make it 21-14 with just :35 left in the third quarter.
Tate finished with three interceptions, including the game-clinching 26-yard pick-6, as Eastside was down just one score with 1:07 to play on their final drive from their own 20-yard line.
“I’m so happy for that kid,” Johnson explained. “He’s battled injuries all year and he’s finally getting back healthy, so it’s good to see him have some success on the field because he’s a great kid and he deserves it.”
Eastside will host Palatka next Friday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m., while Newberry will travel to Dixie County (Cross City) for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
“Every win is important at this point of the year,” Johnson said. “We’re right on the edge of the rankings so every win is big for us right now. We need them, and as ugly as they’ll come, we’ll take them.”
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