ROCK HILL — Northwestern receiver B.J. Boyd now has a new keepsake to go with his old magic.
Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson now has a few gray hairs in his beard, if not the top of his head.
But more importantly for the Trojans, they may now have found themselves a new leader at quarterback.
Sophomore passer Mason Rudolph bounced back from a tough loss against Gaffney and a tough interception in the fourth quarter to lead the playoff-bound Trojans to a 19-14 win over Rock Hill.
"I haven't even dreamed of anything like this," Rudolph said, eyes wide and the grin frozen to his face. "The whole situation just came so quickly.
"I'm still in awe of what happened."
A lot of people were. The win gives Northwestern (7-4, 3-2 in Region 3-AAAA) a 24-23 edge in the city series, and the game was just as close.
The pressure of the back-and-forth night had Richardson rubbing the top of his bald head as he shook it, saying, "I don't need many more days like this."
Rudolph threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns -- the final one to Boyd with 20.6 seconds left to complete a frantic comeback. So even though he doesn't know close to the whole offense, he knew enough to lead the stirring rally Friday night at District Three Stadium.
"He grew up tonight," Richardson said of his quarterback. "I'm very proud of the way he bounced back. He had a rough outing against Gaffney last week, but a lot of people do that. But he had a great week of practice and he came out tonight and handled a pressure situation."
Of course, the pressure was partly of his own making.
Nursing a 13-7 lead late in the fourth quarter, Rudolph offered up an odd back-foot interception out of his own end zone. Rock Hill's T.J. Halsey got his hands on the desperate ball thrown into double coverage, and less than a minute later, Jonathan Adams rolled into the end zone to give the Bearcats a 14-13 lead.
But they left Rudolph 1:08 to work with, and he knew to get the ball to his playmakers.
A 27-yard pass to Boyd. A pass interference penalty on Rock Hill, and then a 16-yard pass to freshman Dupree Hart, who skated his way to the Rock Hill 16-yard line.
At that point, there was little time, and less choice.
Rudolph found Boyd for his second touchdown on a fade to the back corner of the end zone to trigger a wild celebration.
Boyd was still clutching the game ball long after it was over, looking like he might never put it down.
"I told the offense, the pressure's on, and I won't let the team down," said Boyd, who finished with nine catches for 99 yards.
Asked what the game-winning play was called, Boyd laughed again.
"I can't tell you what we call it," he beamed. "It's a magic play."
Getting that kind of play out of the relatively untested sophomore -- who missed time with a concussion earlier this year -- was crucial. The Trojans offense hummed last year with Justin Worley at the helm, but he's at Tennessee now, and when he graduated there were question marks left behind.
"Justin's such a great player, no one could ever replace him," Rudolph said, still smiling. "I think people understood that coming in. The pressure's not replacing him, it's learning this system. But the coaches have been great, teaching me this much of it this quickly."
Asked how much of Richardson's "Air Raid" offense he knew, Rudolph replied: "I don't know, they put in a couple plays every week.
"Everything we run, I know."
Rudolph and Boyd's heroics spoiled a solid effort by the Bearcats (5-6, 1-4), who looked ready to steal the win behind a salty and opportunistic defense.
"We had that game won," repeated a dejected coach Joe Montgomery.
For nearly 47 minutes, he was right.
NORTHWESTERN 19, ROCK HILL 14
NW -- Mason Rudolph 5 pass to B.J. Boyd (Sully Foy kick).
RH -- Corey Wessinger 7 pass to Jaleel Scott (John David Raad kick).
NW -- Mason Rudolph 20 pass to Rontavius McClure (kick failed).
RH -- Jonathan Adams 2 run (John David Raad kick).
RH -- Mason Rudolph 16 pass to B.J. Boyd (pass failed).
RUSHING -- Northwestern: Lathomas Long 15-62, Dupree Hart 5-11, Mason Rudolph 2-(-9). Rock Hill: Jonathan Adams 21-71, Jaquan Feaster 6-25, Corey Wessinger 10-33.
PASSING -- Northwestern: Mason Rudolph 27-36-1 275 yards. Rock Hill: Corey Wessinger 8-18-2 75 yards.
RECEIVING -- Northwestern: Lathomas Long 2-24, Rontavius McClure 5-51, B.J. Boyd 9-99, Ahmad Dewese 4-24, Dupree Hart 7-77. Rock Hill: Jaquan Feaster 2-11, Jaleel Scott 2-20, Jonathan Adams 1-13, Jamel Jones 1-12, Dre Williams 2-19.
RECORDS: Northwestern: 7-4, 3-2. Rock Hill: 5-6, 1-4.
Darin Gantt 803-326-4312