ROCK HILL It had been over 161 games and 13 years since Northwestern last beat Byrnes.
The Trojans ended that unseemly barren streak Friday night with a memorable 42-35 overtime win against the Rebels at a crammed District Three Stadium.
Sophomore Julian Shockley caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Mason Rudolph on the Trojans' second play of the extra period, before fellow 10th-grader T.C. Caldwell intercepted a deflected pass on Byrnes' first overtime play to seal the win. It was a nerve-jangling end to a beautiful ball game full of wild momentum shifts.
We just kept preaching, once it flips, once that momentum flips, we got to just start piggybacking off that momentum switching, said Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson.
The Trojans (3-0, No. 2 in Class AAAA) led 28-14 at the break after a stunning 14-point burst in a span of 22 seconds during the second quarter. But Byrnes (2-1, No. 1 in Class AAAA) has won eight of the past 11 state titles in South Carolina, and responded as champions do, pinning 14 unanswered points on the board in the third quarter to tie the game.
We knew they wasn't gonna give up, said Trojan safety Corey Seargent. That's Byrnes, man.
With the score knotted at 28, Byrnes drove the ball down the field and Rebel quarterback Shuler Bentley looked set to punch in a short touchdown run, only to fumble the ball out of bounds for a Trojan touchback. It was one of four crucial turnovers by the visitors.
Well, we had the opportunities, said Byrnes coach Bobby Bentley. Down inside the 1 and don't score and then we fumble inside the 3, and then we have an opportunity there in overtime to tie it and don't do the right route ... just an opportunity missed. We didn't do our job tonight.
After Bentley fumbled late in the third quarter, Northwestern was forced to punt, but the Trojans got the ball back when Bentley's pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage by Dante Seargent and fluttered into the waiting arms of his older brother, Corey Seargent, who returned it to Northwestern's 40.
Bentley was masterful at times, picking the Trojan secondary to pieces. But when Northwestern got the pass rush in his face, it paid off in the form of two deflected passes, both intercepted, and both game-changers.
We didn't get any pressure on him as in making sacks, but we did get close enough to him that we did get hands up and made some plays, deflected balls, Richardson said.
The Trojans' offensive march threatened to peter out, but Rudolph, who threw for five scores, hoofed it for 14 yards on a 3rd and 11 to extend the drive, then hit Quadarius Fair with a 31-yard touchdown pass to put the hosts ahead 35-28 with 3:06 left.
Byrnes responded with a steely 71-yard touchdown march, Bentley making up for his earlier fumble with a 2-yard run to even the score at 35. Each team got four downs from the 10-yard line in overtime, but the Trojans needed only two plays, Shockley finding acres of open space for a basket-catch touchdown.
We actually put that play in this week, Richardson said. We saw it on film from a previous game that Byrnes had trouble defending. We put it in and hadn't really had a chance to run it. We knew they were going to try and double up on Dupree so once we faked it to him, paying attention to a 10th-grader running scott free is usually not a big deal.
There was still work to do. The Trojans blitzed on the Rebels' first snap and Corey Seargent got his hand to Bentley's pass, tipping it off of its intended trajectory. Caldwell, making his first start in the purple and gold, caught the wayward ball and fell in the end zone. The home stand erupted.
It was a big team win tonight, Richardson said. Our last taste of overtime was a loss in the state championship. So for our guys to rebound and learn from that and be able to finish the deal in overtime, that was huge.
Bret McCormick 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T
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