Showdown in Rock Hill: Jackets, Trojans could be explosive matchup
North Augusta. Northwestern.
From the moment that the Class AAAA Division II bracket was unveiled, it seemed that these two teams were on an inevitable path toward one another.
The Jackets (12-1) and the Trojans (13-0) are among the best teams in the state. The two teams also are the highest remaining seeds – No. 1 Goose Creek saw its undefeated season come to an end against South Pointe on Friday. The game will be played in Rock Hill and will prove to be a test for the Jackets, who haven’t taken a two-plus hour bus ride since playing at Sumter on Sept. 20.
Even then, though, the biggest test will be what’s on the field. Northwestern is led by Oklahoma State commit Mason Rudolph, a player who passed for five touchdowns against South Aiken, the only common opponent between the two schools. The Trojans’ air raid offense put up 509 yards against the Thoroughbreds. Northwestern also has wins over South Pointe (who will play at Stratford on the other side of the bracket), Byrnes (who beat Lexington 63-21 in the Class AAAA Division I bracket and has no other losses this year) and West Florence in the first round. The team also beat York 39-7 last week, the second time this year (45-15 in the first matchup) to advance to this point.
Northwestern comes into the game with an impressive stat sheet. Rudolph, the triggerman of the Trojan offense, comes in with gaudy numbers, passing for 3,570 yards and 50 touchdowns on the season. He’s thrown on six interceptions, on 386 passing attempts and is completing 73.1 percent of his passes.
Northwestern boasts a pair of 1,000 yard receivers, with Dupree Hard gaining 1,266 yards on 84 catches with 19 touchdowns and Quadarious Fair gaining 1,184 yards on 78 catches with 23 touchdowns. While the Trojans enjoy slinging the ball all over the field, they struggle in the running game, with Rudolph leading the team in rushing. Northwestern averages nearly 131 rushing yards per game, with Rudolph, Julian Shockley and Tori Adams all averaging nearly 30 yards per game.
That said, North Augusta will also have their own star quarterback, Trib Reece, leading them into enemy territory. The Jackets may also depend heavily on Willie McCloud, who had a monster game against Beaufort to help control the clock. It’s the polar opposite of what the Jackets had last week, where they were playing a team that looked to do the same against them.
Reece commands an offensive attack that relies on balance to put points on the board. The junior quarterback comes into the game with 36 passing touchdowns to only six interceptions and just under 2,800 yards on the season. The Jackets bring a 1,300 yard runner, in McCloud and a 1,100 yard receiver in Keyon West.
“We have to be balanced to play with a team like Northwestern,” Dan Pippin, North Augusta head coach, said. “We want to be able to run the ball and protect the passer. Northwestern does a lot of twisting and stunting on their defensive line, so this is going to be a pretty big challenge for our offensive line. If we can establish a running game, we’ll win the game, but if we get behind early, who knows what will happen.”
Northwestern’s defense plays off the momentum its offense gives them. The Trojans also tend to deal knockout punches early on in contests with most teams being unable to respond to the quick-paced scoring, proven by their 356-89 scoring differential in the first half this year. If North Augusta has proved one thing this year, it’s that they are quite capable of doing the exact same when needed.
If the front line of the Jackets can get pressure – a big if – and work with a lead, this could be a game where North Augusta may shock the state. If the Trojans get out to an early lead, and the Jackets are unable to keep pace, it could prove to be a long bus ride home from Rock Hill.
“All you want is to have a chance in the fourth quarter,” Pippin said. “You can’t ask for anything more than a chance to win the game.”
Scott Rodgers and T.J. Lundeen are the news team of the North Augusta Star.