Northwestern finally fitted together the two biggest pieces of a thus-far inconsistent team, and gave its coach what he'd been seeking the past two years -- a win on the sidelines.
"How much more proud of a group of kids could you be?," said Trojans coach Jimmy Wallace after his Trojans finished a 14-0 win over Spartanburg on Friday, evening their record at 1-1. "We needed confidence."
Wallace returned to the sidelines after a two-year hiatus last week, but the Trojans suffered a shocking four-overtime loss to Charlotte Country Day. The game was highlighted by a brilliant offense but dogged by the defense, which was caught napping too many times.
For the first two and a half quarters Friday, it was the opposite. The defense, spurred by Greg Paige and Lielvin Whitlock, was shutting down the Vikings while the Trojans' offense sputtered.
Then Whitlock intercepted two passes, the Trojans' offense clicked for one masterful drive and the game was put away.
"Our attitude changed," said Whitlock, discussing the team's defensive mindset. "We got our heads right."
Northwestern (1-1) got a safety on the game's first series when Spartanburg punter John Prochak had a snap sail over his head, and he kicked the loose ball out of the end zone. That was the extent of the scoring until the second quarter, when the Trojans took over on a short field and got Jared Neely into position for a 1-yard touchdown run.
Spartanburg had a great chance to score when a late punt was fumbled by Northwestern's Chris Long. The Vikings recovered at the Trojans' 19, but after Paige administered another bone-rattling hit on Mills, Spartanburg (0-2) couldn't stop the clock, and the half ended.
Dodging a major bullet, the Trojans escaped into the locker room and took the ball on the first possession of the second half. That ended in a punt, but Whitlock intercepted Spartanburg's Mikeem Mills on the next drive.
One could almost see Wallace chomping at the bit to put the game away. He ordered Trojans QB Will King to lead the unit on the field, where King began with a 22-yard catch-and-run to James Childress.
King ran for 4 yards and handed off to Neely for another six before calling his own number for 18 yards. With one of three straight first down-producing plays under his belt, King handed off to Nigel Dixon on a reverse and then got Neely into the end zone on a pitch.
The kick missed, but Northwestern led 14-0. Turning the game over to the defense, the Trojans squashed the Vikings' last hopes and sailed into a long feel-good weekend.
"We needed to get a win," Whitlock said. "We needed to get the Trojan tradition back on top."
"This football team needed confidence," Wallace agreed. "To give up 51 and then post a shutout ... I'm extremely proud of our football team."