When North Augusta and Northwestern cross swords Friday in the Class AAAA Division II state semifinals, it would be a shock for either team’s offense to run something the other side hadn’t already seen on film, or in practice every day.
North Augusta coach Dan Pippin and Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson are very familiar with each other’s offensive schemes.
“We stole a lot of plays from him,” said Pippin. “A lot of the plays are exactly the same because I stole them from Kyle. I mean, he gave them to me, but… .”
You get the point.
The two have spoken at the same clinics on multiple occasions and used those instances to talk shop and swap ideas and schemes.
“He’s an offensive guy, so we talk a lot of offensive stuff,” said Richardson, also unquestionably an offensive guy. “He does a lot of stuff that we do, and we do a lot of stuff that he does; very similar offensive attacks.”
While Northwestern’s coaching staff may be acquainted with much of the Yellow Jackets playbook, Pippin’s team tends to ghost through the regular season unnoticed by much of the state until the playoffs. Counting this latest run, North Augusta (12-1) has played in the Class AAAA Division II semifinals three of the last four seasons.
“They kind of stay hidden for a while, but they’re always deep in the playoffs and they’re always good,” said Richardson
“They’re in a part of the state that doesn’t get as much coverage so they kind of go, I wouldn’t say unknown, but they don’t play a lot of common opponents. Saturday when we exchanged film with them was the first time I’ve seen film on them because we don’t have any opponents that cross over with them.”
Both squads played South Aiken this year, but the Thoroughbreds had not yet faced region foe North Augusta when Northwestern got their tape the third week of the season. Still, it doesn’t take an entire afternoon of film study to understand why North Augusta has won 45 of its 54 games the last four seasons. Pippin’s team has had several constants during that time: a good running back, a stingy defense, and a skilled quarterback.
Last year, North Augusta quarterback Trib Reece took over as the team’s starter in place of an injured incumbent and led the Yellow Jackets capably from the midpoint of the season on into the playoffs. North Augusta outlasted Nation Ford in the first round before narrowly falling to Greenwood in the second round, the only season in the last four that Pippin’s program hasn’t played for a state championship berth.
Reece has continued his upward progression this season, throwing for over 2,700 yards and 36 touchdowns. Pippin said the junior’s biggest leap has been mental.
“He’s just gotten better at reading defense,” he sai. “We’ve really worked on that.”
That’s manifested in just six interceptions and a completion rate of 70 percent for Reece, who stands 6-foot-3, and is about 180 pounds. No question that senior running back Willie McCloud has kept defenses honest, and prevented Reece from having to shoulder the entire load. McCloud ran for over 200 yards in North Augusta’s 23-10 second round win over Beaufort last week, and he’s got over 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season. He’ll have a big part to play again on Friday night.
“I think it’s important that we run the football, but I imagine everybody would say the same thing,” said Pippin. “I think that’s the biggest thing, try to keep their offense off the field.”
Pippin’s dry, punchy responses to questions about Northwestern’s offense during a phone interview Tuesday showed he’s either sick of answering queries about Mason Rudolph and company, or he’s sick of thinking about ways to stop them from scoring. Probably both.
“I don’t know that anything can help us prepare for them because they’re so good, their quarterback gets rid of the ball so fast,” said Pippin. “You can’t simulate that kind of stuff. What they do is a great scheme, but I think that the kids that they have would be great in any scheme.”
Anyone who has seen Northwestern receivers Quadarius Fair (78 catches for 1,184 yards and 23 touchdowns) and Dupree Hart (84 catches for 1,266 yards and 19 touchdowns) this season would have to agree. The pair, who have combined for 42 of the team’s 52 touchdown receptions, have alternated huge Friday nights depending on opposing defenses’ tastes.
“You take one of them away, the other is going to hurt you,” Pippin said. “We know going in that both of them are really good, you’ve got to, I don’t know, do your best.”
However, North Augusta – its pugnacious coach especially – isn’t intimidated by talent.
“We’ve seen good football players all year,” said Pippin. “They just create matchup problems because of what they do.”
As good as North Augusta’s offense has been this year, scoring nearly 40 points per outing, the Yellow Jackets defense has been equal, if not better. They top the state in scoring defense, allowing just 12.3 points per game. Richardson said the difference in North Augusta’s defense this year versus previous years is “how athletic they are, which has led to them flying around a lot more, which has led them to be statistically one of the best defenses in the state.”
For North Augusta, the numbers don’t lie in this case.
“We’re the No. 2 scoring defense in the state,” said Pippin, whose defense is actually No. 1 now. “I don’t know how that’s deceptive. We’re 12-1, we won our region, we’ve been in the state semifinals three of the last four years. So, we’re not a bad football team. We’re okay I guess.”
The Yellow Jackets certainly are okay. But then Kyle Richardson could have told you that.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T