SC CHAMPIONS: Northwestern Trojans steamroll Stratford to claim state title

bmccormick@heraldonline.comDecember 7, 2013 

— Alexander the Great’s hordes, J.R.R. Tolkien’s orc legions or the organized army ants of the Amazon would all be appropriate comparisons for Northwestern’s insatiable offensive attack Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Trojans paved over the Stratford Knights 62-35 to win the Class AAAA Division II state title and complete the school’s second perfect season in the last four years.

“We challenged the guys to come out and jump on them,” said Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson, who claimed his first state title as head coach. “We knew there was gonna be some doubt in their minds just from playing us and the way the media had hyped the game up. So we felt like, hey, let’s take advantage of that and the doubt will creep back in.”

The Trojans (15-0) sped to a 21-0 lead in the game’s first eight minutes, wobbling the Knights (12-3) from the get-go. Quarterback Mason Rudolph hit Dupree Hart for a 21-yard touchdown that the junior receiver reeled in with one hand, before sophomore Jamah Mitchell recovered a Stratford fumble on the Knights’ first offensive play of the game. Northwestern scored a minute later, Rudolph falling on his own fumble in the end zone. The Trojans then stopped Stratford on fourth down and scored six plays later, Rudolph dumping a short pass to Hart, who followed a good downfield block and went 29 yards to six points.

“I felt like we were gonna come out and take advantage of some matchups,” said Richardson. “You never know how the kids are gonna respond, but they had a heck of a week. The focus was just so intense this week that it doesn’t surprise me.”

Northwestern’s defense took advantage, forcing eight turnovers – four fumbles and four interceptions thrown by Stratford QB Jacob Park – in another effective performance, one that helped clinch the school’s fourth state title.

“Coach (James) Martin has been putting us in the right positions every day of the week, and he does that every week and this whole season,” said senior linebacker Russell Hubbs. “He puts us in the right position to shut down what they do best.”

Hart was at the forefront of Northwestern’s insuperable offense. The junior receiver has wowed crowds in the York County area the last three years, but blew away a statewide audience Saturday with 21 catches for 255 yards and four touchdowns. In the first half alone, he racked up 14 grabs for 193 yards and three touchdowns.

None of Northwestern’s nine scoring drives lasted longer than 2 minutes, 51 seconds, and four of them took less than a minute off the clock. All of Northwestern’s lead actors did their part, as did the supporting cast. Rudolph had a breezy day despite the drizzly gray, throwing for 483 yards and eight touchdowns, while completing 38 passes, a new state record for single-game completions that broke Justin Worley’s previous mark of 37. Rudolph also scored a touchdown on the ground early in the first quarter when he fumbled into the end zone but pounced first on the loose ball.

That was about as dirty as the senior’s jersey got; he rarely held the ball long enough to feel Stratford’s pressure, and was well-protected when he did.

“All the credit goes to the offensive line for giving me time,” said Rudolph. “We knew they were going to bring pressure and we did a good job of suppressing that. It’s a great team win; I couldn’t be happier.”

When Hart wasn’t streaking past man-coverage, Quadarius Fair was. The senior receiver grabbed seven passes for 175 yards and scored four touchdowns. Very simply, Saturday was Northwestern’s offense at its best with Rudolph pulling the strings in his final high school football game in a Trojan uniform.

“He’s pretty darn good every week,” said Richardson. “But on the big stage, he was pretty, pretty awesome tonight.”

The Trojans converted on 7 of 9 third-down attempts, 2 of 2 fourth-down attempts and 3 of 3 red zone visits in the first half. And the defense made sure the Trojan offense didn’t remain sidelined for long.

“We had to keep that thing rolling at the beginning,” said Hubbs.

Saturday was a just reward for one of the hardest-working high school football machines in the state.

“These kids have stayed focused every week,” said Richardson. “We played the toughest schedule in the state and we came out on top and you can’t ask for any more.”

“It’ll sink in in a couple of days,” said Rudolph, effectively speaking for the entire football team.

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

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