[By Mike Craven, Special to ETSN.fm]

NEWTON -- It hasn’t been an easy offseason for the Newton Eagles.

Head coach W.T. Johnston has struggled with health issues since last season, when Newton rebounded from an opening-season loss to Tatum to reach the state championship game.

Johnston was on the sidelines for the 37-28 home-victory Friday night, but it was acting head coach Bryan Barbay, formerly of Coldspring-Oakhurst, who coached Newton to a victory.

Newton's Jaron Hanks (28) breaks free for a long run during the Eagles' 37-28 season-opening win over Tatum on Friday night in Newton. (Sherry Tracy, ETSN.fm)

“It was a strange situation to come into, but this is a resilient group that understands the dynamics of what is going on with Coach Johnston," Barbay said. "I came in here about a month ago and took over. I didn’t try to change much because Coach Johnston and this program have done great things. We saw that tonight. Obviously, we have talent, but it is our ability to keep working that I really enjoyed tonight.”

Tatum took an early lead when, on its first possession of the game, Denarius Earl scored from five yards out to cap off an eight-play, 69-yard drive. The extra point gave Tatum a 7-0 lead, but it didn’t last long.

Newton’s Gabe Foster returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion gave Newton its first lead. Newton never trailed again in the game. It extended the lead to 14-7 on its next possession when Jaron Hanks took a third-down run 70 yards for a score in Newton’s only offensive drive of the first quarter.

“We didn’t have a ton of plays in that first half, especially the first quarter,” Barbay said. “We took advantage of our limited opportunities and it was nice to score on special teams.”

Tatum tiex the game at 14 by halftime. LeMarcus Harmon scored on a seven-yard touchdown run and the extra point by Jesus Sandoval was good.

Newton took over the game in the third quarter, however. Touchdown runs by Foster and Williams, and one extra point and two-point conversion, gave Newton a 29-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Tatum's Jamaine Moore (17) is pursued by Newton's Hunter Flanigan (59) during their game Friday night in Newton. (Sherry Tracy, ETSN.fm)

“The coaches got together at halftime and we decided to ride the guys making plays. We only threw the ball one time in the second half,” Barbay said. “We knew it would take a huge effort to beat a team like Tatum, so our best guys had to show up and they did. Now, we need to build some depth around them moving forward.”

Tatum closed the gap with a touchdown pass from J.D. Taylor to Jamaine Moore. Moore broke two tackles, then raced 70 yards to trim the deficit to 29-22 with 8:45 remaining in the game, but it was as close as Tatum could get.

Tatum jad one last opportunity, but a turnover on downs gave Newton great field position, and Foster capitalized with a 15-yard touchdown run with 2:06 to play. It was his third of the game.

A good kickoff return set Tatum up with great field position, but even a late touchdown pass from Taylor to Earl wasn’t enough, because Newton recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.

Newton outrushed Tatum by 193 yards in the second half. Hanks finished the game with 235 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Foster added 93 yards on the ground, two rushing touchdowns and a kickoff return for a touchdown.

Newton's Tanner Holmes forces a fumble and Robert Wood (65) recovers during the Eagles' 37-28 season-opening win over Tatum on Friday night in Newton. (Sherry Tracy, ETSN.fm)

No. 4 Newton 37, Tatum 28

At Singletary Stadium, Newton

Tatum                7      7      0    14    --    28
Newton            14      0    15      8    --    37

First Quarter
TAT--Denarius Earl 5 run (Jesus Sandoval kick), 8:04.
NEW--Gabe Foster 91 kickoff return (Tanner Holmes run), 7:52.
NEW--Jaron Hanks 70 run (run failed), 3:04.
Second Quarter
TAT--LeMarcus Harmon 7 run (Sandoval kick), 11:40.
Third Quarter
NEW--Foster 20 run (Holmes kick), 8:05.
NEW--Hanks 63 run (Brodrick Spikes run), 3:51.
Fourth Quarter
TAT--Jamaine Moore 70 pass from J.D. Taylor (Taylor run), 8:45.
NEW--Foster 15 run (Hanks run), 2:06.
TAT--Earl 25 pass from Taylor (run failed), 1:41.

                                       TAT              NEW
First Downs                        13                  12
Total Yards                       315                402
Rushes-Yards              34-115          45-368
Passing Yards                   200                 34
Comp.-Att.-Int.           10-21-0            3-8-0
Punts-Avg.                    2-29.5               0-0
Fumbles-Lost                     2-2               1-1
Penalties-Yards                7-75             6-45

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING – Newton, Jaron Hanks 20-235, Gabe Foster 15-93, Brock Barbay 8-26, Brodrick Spikes 2-24. Tatum, Josh Ivy 9-19, J.D. Taylor 8-38, Denarius Earl 10-18, Da’Calen Hicks 2-24.
PASSING – Newton, Barbay 3-8-0--34. Tatum, Taylor 10-20-2--200.
RECEIVING – Newton, Tanner Holmes 1-36, Tatum, Earl 4-55, Hicks 2-54, Jamaine Moore 105.