When Rock Hill School District electrical foreman Dale Adkins, District 3 Stadium manager Donnie Parrish and some members of the 60-strong group that take care of D3 make their routine pregame checks this week, be sure they’ll scrutinize the scoreboard light bulbs closely.
Northwestern hosts York in a meeting of undefeated Region 3 powers, and those scoreboard light bulbs will almost certainly be the busiest actors in another Friday night drama that promises to justify six bucks. The Trojans, ranked No. 1 in the state and as high as No. 9 nationally, host a York team ranked No. 6 in South Carolina and fast approaching the program’s apex under Bobby Carroll.
Though Northwestern’s defense is improved from 2012, there is no question that offense drives both of these squads. The Cougars and Trojans combine to average over 90 points and 820 yards of total offense per game, while the two teams have scored 35 or more points in 13 of their 16 total games this season. Even in the “fast break football,” era those are sexy offensive numbers.
It’s new territory for Carroll, a longtime former defensive coordinator who coached at Northwestern during seasons when the Trojans ran the ball 85 percent of the game.
“I haven’t been in a game where we say, ‘hey man, we’ve gotta’ outscore them,’” he said. “That’s never been our forte, never been anything we thought about.”
The stats look pretty similar, but the way in which they’re piled up differs. York has a more traditionally balanced offensive attack, featuring a solid quarterback in Deshaw Andrews, four dynamic receivers – Josh McCoy, Markel Castle, Daurice Simpson and Kyron Schrouder – and the area’s best running back, Ryan Moore, who already has close to 1,200 rushing yards.
“It’s a challenge,” Richardson said. “York is one of those teams that can have big plays in the pass and the run. They are multidimensional where you can’t load up and say this week we’re just gonna stop the run, or this week we’re gonna stop the pass.”
The biggest difference between these two teams offensively is York’s big play propensity. Cougars coaches track “explosive plays,” those that go for 20 or more yards. Through eight games, York has 38. The Cougars also have at least three plays of 30 yards or more in every game this season. Knowing that, it’s hardly surprising they’ve scored 46 points or more in six of the last seven ball games.
It’s heady stuff for Carroll, even after 31 years of coaching. He said this team’s offense ranks “right up there,” with the best he’s coached.
“This offense has the potential of scoring like our ’08 team did,” Carroll said, referring to his 2008 state championship team at South Pointe.
If Northwestern is playing fast break football too, then the Trojans are more apt to lay the ball in than finish with a 3-pointer. Piloted by Mason Rudolph, who has committed to Oklahoma State, the defining characteristic of Richardson’s offense is its ruthless, robotic execution. The Trojans don’t take as many shots down the field as York does, hence far fewer plays of 30-plus yards, and they don’t have the traditional every-down back like Moore.
But Dale Adkins’ scoreboard bulbs have been blinking away at a rapid pace as the Trojans Air Raid clicks right along. Wide receiver screens along the sidelines essentially serve as run plays, with the onus on the receiver to follow blocks or plow through defenders for yards after the catch. Northwestern takes what the opposing defense surrenders, and often that’s the short stuff underneath.
“They’re so dadgum precise and accurate in their throws and their routes,” Carroll said.
Six, nine, 10, three, 10 … gradually the yards pile up until Northwestern is in the red zone. That’s the area of the field – the opponent’s 20-yard line to the end zone – where Trojans offensive lethality peaks.
Richardson said he calls it the “green zone,” because he doesn’t expect his offense to stop in that portion of the field.
“Green means go and when we get inside that 20, it’s time to go even harder and faster than we did to get inside there,” he said.
Inside the opponent’s red zone 35 times this season, the Trojans have emerged with 29 touchdowns and three field goals for a 91 percent scoring rate, and an 83 percent touchdown rate. For perspective, consider the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos are scoring touchdowns in the red zone at the same percentage.
That’s why Carroll isn’t spraining his brain trying to devise some new outlandish scheme to halt the Trojans’ march.
“This game and the offenses we’re running, it isn’t about schemes and what you run on defense that stops it,” said Carroll. “The thing that stops it is people. Can our guys tackle their guys? That’s the difference.”
In a game pitting two of the best offenses in the state, that will certainly be the question. In their headline-grabbing matchup against Byrnes earlier this season, Northwestern made the decisive individual plays, including three defensive stops inside the 20. Richardson feels that performances like that during the Trojans’ stiff non-region slate have his team prepared, just like those D3 scoreboard lights.
“We set this schedule for a reason, and this was the reason,” he said. “When you got into region, our kids would be in an environment in a big-time game and they would’ve already been there. We look back on it now and our tough non-region schedule prepared us for region, our region is obviously going to prepare us for the playoffs, and that’s no different this week.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T