ROCK HILL — It was a tale of two halves for the Northwestern Trojans as they rallied from down 10-0 at the half to score 44 second half points in just 24 minutes, beating the Bluffton Bobcats 44-30.
Both Northwestern and Bluffton came into the Class AAAA Division II semifinals with nearly identical records, the Bobcats at 12-1, with the help of the forfeit from Goose Creek Gators last week, and the Trojans at 11-2.
Nobody was hurting us in the first half, but ourselves, said Trojans coach Kyle Richardson. They were over thinking things. We just told them to play Northwestern football in the second half. This group here doesnt quit.
Blufftons record was a little misleading as their strength of schedule wasnt nearly as tough as the Trojans, as they played only four teams that ended up with winning records before last weeks game against Goose Creek. The Bobcats only loss on the season was to Summerville 31-22 earlier this month, while Northwestern fell to Byrnes 32-28 and South Pointe 28-25.
The Trojans will face Greenwood in next Saturdays Class AAAA Division II state championship at Williams-Brice Stadium at noon. Greenwood beat South Pointe 35-30, derailing an all-Rock Hill state championship.
Richardson said he didnt care who they played, as long as Northwestern was in the last one.
After a sketchy first half, junior quarterback Mason Rudolph started the second half going 6-for-6 and led Northwestern on three scoring drives to get back in the game after being shut out in the first half.
Rudolph extended the Trojans lead midway through the final quarter, scoring on a one yard run. For the game, he went 16-for-28 for 173 yards. He also rushed for 65 yards on a dozen carries.
Bluffton stayed in the game, scoring on their first possession of the fourth quarter as senior quarterback CJ Frazier hit senior receiver Demetrius Smalls for a 44-yard touchdown.
The Trojans would have none of it, as junior Jaquavious Mackey returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to extend the Northwestern lead.
Northwestern came out like a team possessed in the second half, as senior Lathomas Long had a big 37-yard run to get the Trojans down to the 28-yard line of Bluffton. Long had a monster game, running for 155 yards on 17 carries.
Two offside calls against the Bobcats helped the Trojans get to the four-yard line. Sophomore Dupree Hart then scooted his way into the end zone to give Northwestern its first score.
Bluffton was able to answer as they moved the ball on the ground as junior Gerald Robinson had several huge runs. Northwestern also aided the Bobcats with a pass interference that got the ball to the 15-yard line of the Trojans.
From there, Bluffton kept running through Northwestern until senior Marquis Webber scored from three yards out to extend the Bobcats lead.
The Trojans came right back, scoring four plays into the drive as Rudolph hit senior Rontavius McClure on a 48-yard touchdown as Northwestern refused to go quietly.
Momentum took a big swing in the Trojans way as senior defensive back ODarryl Davis-Douglas picked off a CJ Frazier pass and returned it into Bobcats territory.
Long put the Trojans up for the first time, scrambling in from 15 yards out just two plays later.
Before the end of the third, Bluffton regained the lead briefly before the end of the third quarter, but they were called for an illegal shift for the third time in the game, which negated an eight-yard touchdown run.
First half jinx
The Trojans offense seemed jinxed in the first half, getting close on two separate occasions, but failing to score either time.
Northwestern struggled to start the second quarter as Rudolph had some confusion on long passes with his receivers McClure and Love as they watched a catchable pass fall in between them.
The Trojans offense finally got going midway through the second quarter as they pounded the ball on the ground with the help of Long and Hart, as they went 75 yards to the five-yard line of Bluffton. However, the offense stalled at the five-yard line of the Bobcats, as they forced them to attempt a field goal. But an offside call against the Bobcats gave Northwestern new life.
The Trojans couldnt follow through as Rudolph threw his sixth straight incomplete pass.
After a great field position on Northwesterns next series, Rudolph fumbled on a run to give the ball right back to Bluffton.
Right before the half, with Northwestern controlling the ball, Rudolph hit Love for an 18-yard pass and then took off on a 10-yard run to get into the red zone.
However, senior cornerback Anthony Smith, Jr. picked off Rudolph in the end zone to kill the drive.
In the opening quarter, a pass interference on the Bobcats first drive against Northwestern kept Bluffton alive as they got an extra life after facing a fourth and 12 deep in their own territory.
Bluffton started moving the ball with ease as Major and Webber each picked up big first down runs.
The Bobcats also coughed up the ball on the drive, but was able to recover it.
Bluffton had to settle for a 28-yard field goal from senior kicker Mallie Sprouse as the Trojan defense held.
Northwestern started well on offense but turned the ball over just three plays into their first drive.
Bluffton again moved the ball well as the Trojans defense was caught off guard on a big run by Major and a first down pass from Frazier to Boni.
Bluffton added to its lead several plays later as Major scored the Bobcats first touchdown.
B Mallie Sprouse 28-yard field goal
B Tykeem Major one-yard run (Sprouse kick)
NW Dupree Hart five-yard run (Sully Foy kick)
B Marquis Webber three-yard run (Spouse kick)
NW Mason Rudolph to Rontavius McClure 48-yard pass (Foy kick)
NW Lathomas Long 15-yard run (Foy kick)
NW Rudolph one-yard run (Foy kick)
B CJ Frazier to Demetrius Smalls 44-yard pass (conversion failed)
NW Jaquavious Mackey 85-yard kickoff return (Rudolph to McClure 2-point conversion)
NW Rudolph 30-yard run (Rudolph to McClure 2-point conversion)
B Gerald Robinson one-yard run (Spouse kick)
Rushing Bluffton: CJ Frazier 4-9, Gerald Robinson 11-68, Tykeem Major 18-88, Vinny Boni 4-(-1), Marquis Webber 2-25, BJ Hill 1-14, Demetrius Smalls 2-(-2), KJ Ford 2-5.
Northwestern: Mason Rudolph 12-65, Dupree Hart 6-32, Lathomas Long 17-155.
Passing Bluffton: CJ Frazier 16-30-1 195, Vinny Boni 1-1-0 11, Alex Smith 0-1-0 0.
Northwestern: Mason Rudolph 16-28-1 173.
Receiving Bluffton: Demetrius Smalls 4-81, Marquis Webber 5-56, Vinny Boni 4-54, Gerald Robinson 4-15.
Northwestern: Rontavius McClure 4-67, Mustafia Love 4-39, Lathomas Long 2-23, Jared Balasco 1-7, Dupree Hart 5-37.
Records: Bluffton 12-2, Northwestern 12-2.