ROCK HILL — Shut down.
Thats the word from Northwestern football.
Last week, Trojans coach Kyle Richardson said his players have been shut down and prohibited from talking to the media since the South Pointe game.
It appears Richardson has shut down, too. Several attempts by phone and an email to reach him on Thursday were unsuccessful.
The read on it? Richardson is serious about making it to the Class AAAA Division II state championship game and is making sure there are no distractions to keep his team focused.
But talking to someone at Northwestern does not tell the story. It has been written and written and all that changes is names.
This years team is 10-2 and its chances of making it back to the title game got a boost this week. Goose Creek, 12-0 this season and 26-1 over the last two years, was disqualified from the playoffs for using an ineligible player.
The Gators won the title last year, but the team they beat last week, Conway, was put back in the playoffs and will travel to Bluffton.
Instead of a possible trip to Goose Creek, the Trojans will host the Upper Bracket finals Nov. 23 if they beat West Florence on the road tonight.
But the Trojans in no way feared Goose Creek. The Trojans have the talent to beat any team in the state.
It starts on offense, with quarterback Mason Rudolph running the Air Raid passing offense. He has thrown for 3,270 yards and 34 touchdowns. He has passed to 14 receivers.
Leading the way is a 5-foot-4 fireball, sophomore Dupree Hart. Hes caught 81 passes for 1,040 yards and 14 TDs. He also has 49 carries for 285 yards and five touchdowns.
But when the Trojans call a rare running play, the man is LaThomas Longs, who has 78 attempts for 574 yards and nine TDs.
The Trojans have scored 502 points. The play ratio is a surprising 345 rushes to 292 passes.
And the defense has played well in its bend-but-do-not-break scheme. It has allowed only 205 points and has 15 interceptions.
Richardson doesnt have to worry about his players getting bug-eyed if they reach the state final and walk into USCs Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Trojans played in three straight Division II championship games from 2008-2010. They lost the first two but won on the third try, romping past Greenwood 42-10.
If Northwestern makes it back, Greenwood, York and South Pointe are the likely candidates to win their bracket.
So it remains quiet at Northwestern as Richardson takes it one game at a time. Hes an intense coach, and you can bet its wall-to-wall football at the school on S.C. 5.
What 2 watch for
The Trojans of Northwestern (10-2) will travel to Florence to take on the Region VI Champion Knights (10-2). This is a classic battle of contrasting styles of offense with a potent passing air raid attack of Northwestern and a ground-led balanced attack by the Knights.
Impact: Lets not ignore the elephant in the room. With defending DII champion Goose Creek out of the playoffs, the road to the championship just got a little smoother. It will run through this game-winners stadium. Both Northwestern and West Florence are seeded higher than Conway and Bluffton, who are facing off in the other game in this bracket. So this game is for homefield advantage for the state semifinal matchup.
Players to Watch: It is no secret that Northwestern quarterback Mason Rudolph has flourished statistically under this offensive system, but the player that continues to capture my attention is sophomore wide receiver Dupree Hart. West Florence sophomore quarterback Marquane Goodman has been stellar in a leadership role for the Knights.
Keys to the Game: West Florence needs to control tempo of the game and limit the possessions that the Trojans get; that will mean productive (scoring), time consuming drives and coming up with a couple of stops on defense. Northwestern need to exploit the pass defense of the Knights and defensively force the game into the hands of the young Knights quarterback.
Barry Byers 803-329-4099