Northwestern vs. Stratford Saturday, noon, Williams-Brice Stadium

Trojan run game taking advantage of top-heavy defenses

bmccormick@heraldonline.comDecember 3, 2013 

  • Tickets

    Tickets will be sold in the Northwestern athletic department office through Friday during normal business hours. Per SCHSL bylaws tickets will be $10 (whether purchased in advance or at the gates), and only SCHSL passes will be honored for admission.

Julian Shockley ran for 100 yards in Northwestern’s third-round playoff win over North Augusta on Friday, the sophomore’s third game in a row at or over the century mark. His increased inclusion in the Trojans offense in the last month has given Kyle Richardson’s scoring unit an added layer of difficulty.

“He’s done great,” said Northwestern quarterback Mason Rudolph. “Last year he was kind of a guy that would just get in at the end of the game when we were blowing people out. He’s had a really good offseason, put in a lot of hard work and the results are paying off.”

Shockley recently usurped Rudolph as the team’s leading rusher with 520 yards on just 74 attempts. That’s an average of seven yards per carry, a testament to the creation of gaping running lanes by the offensive line, well-timed run calls, and Shockley’s downhill-at-any-cost running style. He’s only lost 10 yards in his 74 carries this season.

“He runs really hard, runs straight ahead and gets north and gets positive yards,” said Rudolph. “He’s been a force for us this year.”

Shockley figures to be a factor when Northwestern faces Stratford on Saturday in the Class AAAA Division II state title game in Columbia. His emergence is similar to LaThomas Long who became the Trojans’ No. 1 back in 2010 as a sophomore, helping that team to an undefeated season and a state championship. Shockley’s running ability, when grouped with the ever-dangerous Dupree Hart and Rudolph, gives Northwestern enough in the run game to force teams to play honest defense, and prevent them from cheating toward pass defense.

Shockley’s 100-yard games have all come in the playoffs when teams have tried to flood the secondary with defenders to stop Hart, Quadarius Fair and the other Trojans pass-catchers from finding space.

“He’s able to run the ball when everybody is dropping out of the box,” said Hart. “He’s making plays out in space and taking some of the pressure off the receivers.”

“They’re checking to the sideline and if you vacate the box, of course they’re gonna run the ball,” said Stratford coach Ray Stackley, whose team will try to strike the right defensive balance Saturday. “They’re a smart staff; they’re gonna take what the defense gives them. We see a lot of people playing a three-man front with a linebacker, well they’re gonna check off and run to that.”

Rudolph’s improved ability to turn congested plays into gains has kept the Trojans offense from bogging down. Opponents have made a habit of flooding the secondary to try and clog Northwestern’s passing routes, leaving Rudolph with little pass rush in his face, but few open targets. His scrambling ability has been invaluable.

From five yards and closer, Rudolph has produced even more. He’s scored a team-high 15 rushing touchdowns this season, and 10 of those came from the 1-yard line. Hart also averages over five yards per carry and has five rushing touchdowns this season, adding even one more dimension to a multi-faceted attack.

“With No. 16 (Shockley), and 14 (Hart) and of course Mason, they’re all threats to run the ball,” said Stackley.

Stratford’s defensive game plan will have to tightrope walk the line between disrespecting Northwestern’s passing attack and forgetting about it’s running capabilities. One thing is sure- the Knights won’t be leaning too far one way or the other, like some of the teams Northwestern has encountered in the playoffs that lined up with three defensive linemen and one recognized linebacker.

“I don’t know how much of that we’re gonna do,” said Stackley. “I know they’re a great passing team, but we’re gonna play the run. They might be good enough to block us and run it. But we won’t just vacate and say, ‘hey, you got to run it.’ We’re not gonna do that to them.”

A few Trojan football highlights from 2013 season:

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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