The latest installment of the Northwestern-Rock Hill rivalry took its shape from the team that lost.
The Trojans won their second straight in the series, 28-10, finally putting away the pesky Bearcats with a fourth-quarter charge. But Rock Hill had nothing to hang its head about afterward.
Yes, the Bearcats lost, undone by one too many crucial letdowns when the Trojans needed one most. But Rock Hill might have found something much more valuable -- a blueprint on how to beat Northwestern, should the two teams meet again.
"We've been covering the pass well all year," said senior Johnathan Meeks, who snared two end-zone interceptions. "We just played up front and tried to work hard."
The Bearcats' defense took the wind out of Northwestern's "Air Raid" offense, blanketing the Trojans' receivers off the line and keeping constant pressure on quarterback Will King. It was simple -- the defenders got in front of the receivers and kept their hands down, thus negating the possibility of an interference call, and used their speed to stay in front of the targets and disrupt the routes.
With their mates in the front seven relentlessly charging King, sometimes sending three at a time, they took away the senior's downfield attack and forced him to use the sidelines. The Bearcats dared King to stand in the pocket in the sights of a foaming-at-the-mouth blitz and the plan worked for most of the game, depriving King of one of his best targets, graceful gazelle Cordarrelle Patterson.
"They got 28 points ... must have not been too good," defensive coordinator Mike Martin quipped. "We just tried to keep people off the corner."
It obviously didn't last forever. The Bearcats were rung up on an interference call just before halftime which led to Northwestern taking its first lead. And in the fourth quarter, after Rock Hill shorted out one Trojans drive with a tipped end-zone interception, King found just enough room to fade another pass to Jarett Neely for a comfortable lead.
But the Bearcats' defense did what it was supposed to do. That it didn't produce a win was disappointing, but not tragic.
"'Don't give him room to make a great throw,'" Meeks said, describing the Bearcats' philosophy. "Just keep pressure on the quarterback."
Rock Hill struggled through a tough season but saved its best for last, although it ended up being an 'A' for effort and an 'L' on the scoreboard. Meeks departed with two straight losses to the Trojans but said he feels confident the Bearcats would be able to make a stronger statement in the future, should Northwestern continue its throwing attack next season.
But if nothing else, the Bearcats can be proud they didn't lay down in a game that had the potential to be a blowout.
Who knows -- Friday's film might be the perfect game for playoff opponents to plan for Northwestern, and they'd only have the Bearcats to thank.
"No, probably not," Martin said, dismissing the possibility of the blueprint being used by others. "Not when they put those kind of numbers up."