North Augusta Yellow Jackets come up short against Northwestern in state semifinals
NORTHWESTERN 49 NORTH AUGUSTA 21
ROCK HILL — For the third time in four years, North Augusta came up one game short of the Class AAAA, Division II state championship game, as the Jackets lost 49-21 at Northwestern.
Head coach Dan Pippin left no doubt as to what he thought of the Trojans (14-0) and his own Jackets (12-2).
“The kids played hard. I think we lost to the state champions, so nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “I think we’re the second best team in Division II.”
After a slow start in which he completed only two of his first eight passes, Northwestern senior quarterback Mason Rudolph found his stride. The Oklahoma State commit completed 28 of 39 attempts for 319 yards and six touchdowns, with one interception.
“He just had to calm down a little bit, got a little bit too hyped there at the start,” said Northwestern head coach Kyle Richardson. “He’s showed up every week, done what he was supposed to do during the week to get better mentally and physically, and then he comes out on Friday night and has games like he had tonight.”
Early on, the teams’ defenses held the pair of high-powered offenses in check as the team’s traded punts for the game’s first three possessions. After going three-and-out on its first possession, Northwestern went on the move in its second. The Jackets had a chance to halt the Trojans again on fourth-and-inches on the North Augusta 35, but Rudolph powered forward for a 5-yard run and the first down.
A couple of plays later, Rudolph found junior Dupree Hart for a 25-yard touchdown catch to take a 6-0 lead after a missed extra point. At 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, Hart already has offers on the table from Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina, and his nine catches – good for 124 yards and three touchdowns – pushed him beyond NFL star A.J. Green for the state career receptions record with 284.
“You want the ball in his hands as much as you can,” Richardson said of the junior.
The Jackets appeared to strike back on the first play of the next drive with an end-around pass from Keyon West to fellow senior receiver Dre Dunbar deep in Trojan territory but an illegal receiver downfield penalty negated the play. North Augusta went three-and-out, and the Trojans went on the move.
They appeared poised to score, but Victor Johnson tipped a pass in the Jackets’ red zone that was intercepted by Kyle Saverance and returned out to the North Augusta 18.
The Jackets weren’t able to move the ball much, and the snap on the ensuing punt sailed over Trib Reece’s head to give the Trojans the ball on the North Augusta 10 and set up a 3-yard scoring pass from Rudolph to Hart.
“You know, I just wish we had played a little better,” Pippin said of the mistakes that seemed to plague his team all night.
After another North Augusta three-and-out, Northwestern got a Rudolph 2-yard scoring pass to Julian Shockley, but this time the Jackets had an answer in the form of a 68-yard touchdown pass from Reece to Dunbar to cut the Trojan lead to 21-7.
The Jackets then forced a punt on the strength of two Brandon Thomas sacks – two of five on the night for North Augusta – but another bad break cost the visitors. Reece hit Jallel Bryant for what looked like a 50-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute left in the half, but Bryant dropped it for what was ruled a fumble out the back of the end zone for a Northwestern touchback and Trojan possession at the 20-yard line.
“I thought we had a great defensive plan,” Pippin said of the pressure his team got on Rudolph. “It probably should’ve been 21-14 there at halftime, but it wasn’t, so nothing we can do.”
Northwestern received the opening kick of the second half, and Hart punished the Jackets again with an 87-yard return for a backbreaking touchdown to make the score 28-7. Reece, who finished the game with 301 yards and two touchdowns through the air on a 15-of-30 effort but also threw two picks, tried to keep the Jackets in the game, but Rudolph and the Trojans had an answer every time, the final blow a 53-yard strike to Quadarius Fair on the heels of a Ronald Williams 5-yard touchdown run for North Augusta.
Now the Trojans will head to Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia for next Saturday’s state championship game against Stratford – 36-13 winners over South Pointe on Friday. The game is a chance for Richardson’s crew to collect the title that they came up one win short of last year after a loss to Greenwood at the same location.
“We just came off the field last year and felt like we left one there on the turf,” Richardson said. “It’s been, ‘Go finish business’ since that day.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.