Northwestern's offense, noted for its explosive passing attack, has earned the label "Air Raid" under coach Kyle Richardson, who introduced this style to the Trojans while serving as offensive coordinator the previous three seasons.
On Friday, though, that strategy was altered with a big-play running attack.
Either way, the Trojans came up with successful results with a 24-14 road victory over Richland Northeast at Harry Perronne Stadium in Columbia in the Class AAAA Division II playoff opener.
Northwestern, the defending state champion, generated 225 rushing yards, and that including a career-best 134 yards from tailback LaThomas Long.
Long, whose 87-yard touchdown run gave Northwestern a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, said that the strategy to run the ball was the result of effective play changes at the line of scrimmage.
"First of all, the offensive line was outstanding; those guys worked hard all week," said Long. "But we saw where they were blitzing, and that gave us big holes to break through with effective gains on the ground.
"We just called the (running) plays when we saw the blitzes coming."
Long described the electrifying scoring run as the result of good blocking, particularly in the secondary from receivers B.J. Boyd and Dupree Hart.
"The back-cut was there," Long said. "Boyd and Hart sealed the outside for me and I just used my speed from that point."
In addition to Long, reserve tailback A.J. McCoy scored on a similar run, this one from 69 yards in the third quarter for a 17-3 Trojans lead.
Trojans coach Kyle Richardson said that emphasis on the running back was established early.
"In the first couple of drives, we wanted to feel out the defenses, and from there, we would see what our game plan would be," said Richardson. "Mason (Rudolph) struggled a bit picking up their complex blitzes and schemes, so we decided it would be best to put the ball in our running back's hands."
Richland Northeast, which finishes the season at 9-3, began to get untracked offensively with an eight-play, 74-yard march, which ended with Darius Paulk blasting into the end zone on a 1-yard run. After forcing the Trojans to turn the ball over on downs, the Cavaliers continued their momentum.
Taking over at their own 45, Paulk gained 30 yards on four carries. Quarterback A.C. Whaley completed three passes on that series, including a 15-yard scoring strikes to receiver Shamar Foulks, cutting the deficit to three, 17-14, with 10:17 remaining.
Northwestern drove to the Cavaliers' 15, but turned the ball over on downs after a 9-play drive. The Trojans' defense, however, was up to the task by forcing a Richland punt to the Trojans' 40.
The Trojans, who concentrated on melting the clock, methodically moved to the Cavaliers' 12 with 1:45 remaining. Following a timeout, Rudolph lofted a 12-yard touchdown pass to the corner of the end zone and receiver B.J. Boyd made the catch while dragging his foot in bounds for the clinching score.
Northwestern advances to the second round of the playoffs and will play Goose Creek on Friday.
RNE 31, NORTHWESTERN 27
N -- Sully Foy 26-yard field goal
N -- LaThomas Long 87-yard run (Foy kick)
N -- AJ McCoy 69-yard run (Foy kick)
RNE -- Darius Paulk 1-yard run (Sam Lourie kick)
RNE -- AC Whaley 15-yard pass to Shamar Foulks (Lourie kick)
N -- Rudolph 12-yard pass to BJ Boyd (Foy kick)
RUSHING -- Northwestern: LaThomas Long 11-134, Mason Rudolph 4-6, Dupree Hart 4-16, AJ McCoy 1-69. Richland NE: Craishaud Foulks 2-15, Darius Paulk 28-156, AC Whaley 11-8, Ryan Howell 1-3, Chavarious Curry-felix 1-51.
PASSING -- Northwestern: Mason Rudolph 17-29-0-149. Richland NE: A.C. Whaley 12-19-1-93.
RECEIVING -- Northwestern: Rontavius McClure 4-47, Dupree Hart 6-41, LaThomas Long 2-20, Ahmad Dewese 2-15, BJ Boyd 3-26. Richland NE: Craishaud Foulks 3-30, Darius Foulks 3-1, Chavarious Felix-curry 3-8, Shamar Foulks 4-43.
RECORDS -- Northwestern 8-4, Richland NE 9-3.