ROCK HILL — Northwestern’s LaThomas Long hasn’t exactly enjoyed the dream senior season.
He’s battled knee and ankle injuries. He’s missed games.
None of that mattered after the Trojans’ 44-30 come-from-behind win against Bluffton in the Class 4A-Division II semifinals Friday at District Three Stadium. Long wore an ear-to-ear smile and hugged everybody in sight.
The kid everybody calls “LT” was back. Long rushed for 155 yards on 17 carries to propel Northwestern (12-2) into the state championship game against Greenwood (14-0).
“LaThomas had a little bit of the injury bug, but he had his best game tonight,” Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson said. “He’s got one game left, and I hope it’s his biggest week yet.”
The Trojans’ offense sputtered in the first half, but Long made his presence known on the ground. He had six carries for 53 yards in the first half. The Trojans even rattled off six straight run plays at one point, a vast departure from the team’s typical “Air Raid.”
Bluffton (12-2) led 10-0 at halftime, but Long made an emphatic statement to start the second half. After an eight-yard draw, Long took a sweep 37 yards down the right sideline before being pushed out of bounds. That helped set up a four-yard touchdown run by running mate Dupree Hart.
“Honestly the game plan was for the backs to pass protect,” Long said. “But they were blitzing a lot, so that changed. I’m glad the coaches trusted me with the ball in tight situations.”
The Trojans trailed 17-14 later in the quarter, but after an interception by O’Darryl Davis-Douglas, Northwestern took the lead for good when Long sprinted through a wide-open middle of the field for a 15-yard touchdown.
“That meant a lot to the team,” Long said. “We got a little momentum off that.”
Momentum might be an understatement. The Trojans scored 44 points in the second half. Long added a 15-yard run on third-and-one with 9:12 left in the fourth quarter, which set up a 1-yard touchdown by quarterback Mason Rudolph. If that’s not enough, Long had two receptions for 22 yards.
“He’s a big-time player in big-time situations,” Rudolph said of Long. “We’ve known that since his sophomore year.”
Long had 73 total yards and a touchdown in the 42-10 win against Greenwood in the 2010 state championship game, which Northwestern won 42-10. He’s ready for the rematch.
“The whole team has worked so hard to get back there; 365 days since last year’s loss to Goose Creek,” Long said. “We’ve made a commitment to this team, and a commitment to get back there.”