With half a week to ponder Northwestern’s 39-7 loss to South Pointe, Trojans coach David Pierce was clear on one thing:
“I couldn’t point out a team in the state of South Carolina that’s got a chance to beat them this year,” he said about the Stallions. “I don’t want to jinx those guys by putting a medal around their necks, but I don’t see who’s gonna stop them from winning a fourth straight state championship.”
Pierce isn’t alone in that assessment, but what about his team, which suffered the school’s heaviest defeat since a 34-point loss to Goose Creek in the 2011 state playoffs?
“You’ve got to hug them as hard as you holler at them,” said Pierce, whose Trojans host Dorman Friday. “We talked, we had frank conversations in very hushed tones and talked about how we had to fix us. Of course we’re gonna look at Dorman’s tendencies, we’re gonna work hard on Dorman, but this week is about fixing us.”
Pierce said Monday was a tough day. Northwestern doesn’t lose often, and definitely not by 32 points.
“We’ve got to face adversity a little better,” he said. “When things are going downhill we’ve got to look adversity in the face and have a little more grit.”
Region and state championships are still in front of the Trojans. Key to achieving either of those aims is protecting sophomore QB Dustin Noller.
You couldn’t pick a more difficult first varsity high school football start for a QB - against the three-time defending state champs and huge rivals in the first game of the season - but Noller was solid against the Stallions, completing 62 percent of his passes and only turning the ball over once, a red zone interception in the first half. Noller’s experiences as a side-arm pitcher for the Northwestern baseball team during its state title run last spring as a freshman probably helped him mentally in Friday’s pressure-packed environment.
“For a 10th grader, I thought he was very poised in the pocket,” Pierce said. “We’ve got to protect the quarterback better. We’ve got to do a better job of giving him a chance to throw it, but I’ve got no negatives on his performance.”
Noller found an offensive groove with fellow baseball player Jordan Starkes, completing seven passes to the senior, and also connected with the Trojans’ other offensive standouts, Dequez Harris and Jamario Holley, 11 combined times in the passing game. As the season wears on, Northwestern’s offensive coaches will try to stretch the team’s offense further beyond the line of scrimmage to highlight Noller’s capable arm and the team’s skill position talents. The Trojan offense averaged 4.8 yards per pass attempt against South Pointe (which averaged 6.9).
While working through the mental anguish of the loss the last few days, Northwestern focused its on-field efforts on protecting the QB and tackling in space, fundamentals that will be crucial against one of the toughest non-region schedules in the state.
“Nobody got fired, the coach didn’t go on a drinking binge, we’re just back to work,” Pierce joked, as he pulled the fence closed at District Three Stadium after Wednesday’s practice. “That’s all you can do.”