Julian Shockley ran for 100 yards in Northwesterns third-round playoff win over North Augusta on Friday, the sophomores 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 Richardsons scoring unit an added layer of difficulty.
Hes 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. Hes had a really good offseason, put in a lot of hard work and the results are paying off.
Shockley recently usurped Rudolph as the teams leading rusher with 520 yards on just 74 attempts. Thats 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 Shockleys downhill-at-any-cost running style. Hes 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. Hes 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. Shockleys 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.
Shockleys 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.
Hes able to run the ball when everybody is dropping out of the box, said Hart. Hes making plays out in space and taking some of the pressure off the receivers.
Theyre checking to the sideline and if you vacate the box, of course theyre gonna run the ball, said Stratford coach Ray Stackley, whose team will try to strike the right defensive balance Saturday. Theyre a smart staff; theyre gonna take what the defense gives them. We see a lot of people playing a three-man front with a linebacker, well theyre gonna check off and run to that.
Rudolphs 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 Northwesterns 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. Hes 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, theyre all threats to run the ball, said Stackley.
Stratfords defensive game plan will have to tightrope walk the line between disrespecting Northwesterns passing attack and forgetting about its running capabilities. One thing is sure- the Knights wont 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 dont know how much of that were gonna do, said Stackley. I know theyre a great passing team, but were gonna play the run. They might be good enough to block us and run it. But we wont just vacate and say, hey, you got to run it. Were not gonna do that to them.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T