Northwestern’s third quarter eruption against Gaffney clinched a 10th straight win and a Region 3-4A championship Friday night. The Trojans’ 51-6 thumping of the Indians kept the visitors winless at District Three Stadium since 1991.
“We played a great Northwestern team tonight,” said Gaffney coach Dan Jones. “There’s a reason they’re No. 1 and they showed it tonight.”
Trojans quarterback Gage Moloney struggled in the first half in the face of Gaffney’s relentless blitz. But he blew the game open early in the third quarter, sprinting 91 yards on a QB keeper for a touchdown to make it 17-0.
Northwestern scored three more times without reply - two Jordan Starkes TD grabs and a stunning 73-yard catch and run for a score by freshman Jamario Holley - before Gaffney got on the board late in the period to make it 37-6. The Trojans have out-scored their opponents 144-39 in the third quarter this season.
It was a stunning about-face for Gaffney. The Indians - hampered by the second quarter loss of quarterback Bryson Ward - struggled mightily on offense, but their vaunted defensive line was stout in the first half. Northwestern still led, though, thanks in part to its big-play fertility. A 66-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Morgan made it 7-0 and the Trojans tacked on a 23-yard Thomas Gettys field goal late in the second quarter. That sent them to the locker room with a 10-0 lead, and apparently set in motion a heck of a halftime shift.
“We weren’t relaxed in the first half,” said Moloney. “We came in at halftime, took a deep breath and we came out and played Northwestern football.”
Moloney’s sprint was the perfect response to Gaffney’s insatiable first half blitzing.
The Trojans had a different play called, but checked down to a designed QB run at the line of scrimmage. Moloney tucked the ball away, ran past several defenders rushing up field and found a wide open second level of the field. He showed good speed, but still needed a knockout downfield block from receiver Starkes to continue unimpeded. A dive into the end zone punctuated a back-breaking touchdown.
“Saw no one in the second level so I knew if I made the right read and the tackle made the right block, and he did, so I just cut inside of him and saw open field and ran as fast as I could,” said Moloney. “Starkes made an awesome block to secure my run. It was great.”
“We had a certain play called and that one looked better. So yeah, it was a great call,” Richardson said with a grin.
Northwestern’s ability to produce big plays was always going to be crucial against a team so capable in the trenches. The Trojans averaged 8.9 yards per play, had 11 plays of 20 or more yards and scored touchdowns of 91, 73, 66 and 31 yards.
Gaffney played a rather undisciplined game, with 11 penalties and three lost fumbles. Losing quarterback Ward to injury was also a crucial blow to the Indians’ cause.
Moloney threw for 408 yards and five touchdowns, his fourth game this season over the 400-yard mark.
Ward going out injured was like presenting a juicy steak to a bunch of scrapyard dogs. Winston Daniels made an impact on the Trojans’ defensive line, with a sack and a fumble recovery. Likewise for Logan Rudolph, who also had a sack and fumble recovery.
Starkes caught a pair of touchdown passes, as did Holley. The Trojans’ two most dangerous receivers are both underclassmen.
Northwestern is off next week with the 4A regular season extended.
Richardson: “Looking forward to having a week to just kind of regroup and get better, mentally and physically.”
Northwestern and Gaffney will have next week off as Lower State 4A teams complete their regular seasons that were delayed by flooding in October. The 4A playoffs begin the following week.
Northwestern 51, Gaffney 6
NHS - Tyler Morgan 66 pass from Gage Moloney (Thomas Gettys kick), 10:28
NHS - Thomas Gettys 23 yard field goal, 0:02
NHS - Moloney 91 run (Gettys kick), 9:09
NHS - Jordan Starkes 31 pass from Moloney (kick failed), 8:09
NHS - Starkes 11 pass from Moloney (Karrington Prioleau kick), 5:50
NHS - Jamario Holley 73 pass from Moloney (Prioleau kick), 3:31
GHS - Ikeem Posey 13 run (kick failed), 2:39
NHS - Holley 10 pass from Moloney (Prioleau kick), 0:29
NHS - Dequez Harris 1 run (Prioleau kick), 8:33
RUSHING Northwestern: Brandon Ashley 2-4; Dequez Harris 7-42; Malik Hinton 2-6; Jerry Howard 11-92; Gage Moloney 8-73. Gaffney: D.J. Logan ENTER; Scott McCluney 1-5; Ikeem Posey 19-78; Bryson Ward 3-4; Isaiah Hughes 6-41; Quadarius Hardy 2-6; D.J. Logan 3-(-3).
PASSING Northwestern: Will Hagood 2-2-0, 16 yards; Moloney 39-24-0, 408 yards. Gaffney: Ward 6-4-0, 89 yards; McCluney 1-0-0; Hughes 11-3-1, 9 yards.
RECEIVING Northwestern: Jordan Starkes 6-74; Jamario Holley 5-124; Tyler Morgan 2-86; Julian Shockley 4-73; Howard 2-14; Grant Kirk 3-42; Rodney Brown 1-12; Harris 2(-5). Gaffney: Posey 2-37; Dennis Smith 1-23; McCluney 3-39; Logan 1-(-1).
RECORDS Northwestern 10-1, 6-0 Region 3-4A; Gaffney 6-5, 4-2.