Alexander the Great’s hordes, J.R.R. Tolkien’s orc legions or the organized army ants of the Amazon would all be appropriate comparisons for Northwestern’s insatiable offensive attack Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Trojans (15-0) paved over the Stratford Knights 62-35 to win the Class 4A Division II state title and complete the school’s second perfect season in the past four years.
“We challenged the guys to come out and jump on them,” said Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson, who claimed his first state title as head coach. “We knew there was going to be some doubt in their minds just from playing us and the way the media had hyped the game up. So we felt like, hey, let’s take advantage of that and the doubt will creep back in.”
The Trojans (15-0) sped to a 21-0 lead in the game’s first eight minutes, wobbling the Knights (12-3) from the get-go. Quarterback Mason Rudolph hit Dupree Hart for a 21-yard touchdown that the junior receiver reeled in with one hand, before sophomore Jamah Mitchell recovered a Stratford fumble on the Knights’ first offensive play. Northwestern scored a minute later, Rudolph falling on his own fumble in the end zone. The Trojans then stopped Stratford on fourth down and scored six plays later, Rudolph dumping a short pass to Hart, who followed a downfield block and went 29 yards.
“I felt like we were going to come out and take advantage of some matchups,” said Richardson. “You never know how the kids are gonna respond, but they had a heck of a week. The focus was just so intense this week that it doesn’t surprise me.”
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Northwestern’s defense took advantage, forcing eight turnovers — four fumbles and four interceptions thrown by Stratford QB Jacob Park — in another effective performance, one that helped clinch the school’s fourth state title.
Hart was at the forefront of Northwestern’s offense. The junior receiver wowed a statewide audience Saturday with 23 catches for 255 yards and four touchdowns. In the first half, he racked up 14 grabs for 193 yards and three touchdowns.
None of Northwestern’s nine scoring drives lasted longer than 2 minutes, 51 seconds, and four of them took less than a minute off the clock. All of Northwestern’s lead actors did their part, as did the supporting cast. Rudolph had a breezy day despite the drizzly gray, throwing for 483 yards and eight touchdowns, while completing 38 passes, a state record for single-game completions that broke Justin Worley’s previous mark of 37.
That was about as dirty as the senior’s jersey got; he seldom held the ball long enough to feel Stratford’s pressure, and was well-protected when he did.
“All the credit goes to the offensive line for giving me time,” said Rudolph. “We knew they were going to bring pressure and we did a good job of suppressing that.”