ROCK HILL Northwestern’s first offensive play of the high school football season Friday evening went for a 5-yard loss and a safety for Byrnes.
As Rebel defensive back Lyrics Klugh said, the safety “set it off” for the visitors.
“It just made the momentum go towards us and it just led through the whole game,” said Klugh, who intercepted two passes as Byrnes held off a second half comeback to beat Northwestern 30-22 at District Three Stadium.
All eyes were on a pair of rookie quarterback starters in a season-opener played in sneaker-melting heat before a national ESPNU audience. Byrnes’ Micah Young looked like he was making his 100th start, throwing for 252 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. He finished the game 20 for 35 with 326 yards and three scores, against just one pick.
Like Young, most of Byrnes’ production came in the first half. Trailing 30-6, the Trojans regrouped at the intermission and shut out the Rebels 16-0 in the second 24 minutes. Northwestern’s first-time starter Harper Woods showed some jitters, completing 16 of 33 passes for 152 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown. But he stood up to an incessant Byrnes pass rush, which had a hand, or several, in Woods’ two interceptions, both caught by Klugh.
“Our secondary is pretty good back there, but Lyrics Klugh is the real deal, he is the real deal,” Byrnes coach Brian Lane said about his Division I-recruited cornerback. “So we just try to get a little pressure out there and get him to throw one up and go get it.”
Still, Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson, who hadn’t given a losing post-game interview in over a year and a half, praised his group for the second half fight-back.
“Proud of this bunch,” he said. “We knew with the inexperience this team has we could struggle. We just wanted to be in it late with a shot. We challenged them to win the second half and that’s what they did, and honestly, with a minute left, we had a shot to make something happen. We’re gonna build off it and get better. This is why we play these games.”
This was no rehash of last year’s overtime thriller. The Rebels put it on the defending state champs early. Young, looking like a seasoned veteran early on.
“We just got to continue to work, get him to hit his check-downs and he’ll be all right,” said Lane. “Good job winning his first start.”
It was the Byrnes defense that put Lane’s group on the front foot. A 48-yard punt by Holden Owens pinned the Trojans at their 5, and Julian Shockley got creamed for a 5-yard loss and a two-point safety on the very next play. The safety not only put the Rebels up 2-0, it also flipped the field on the Trojans, who couldn’t get out from under the field position boulder the entire first half.
“You’ve got seven new dudes out there on offense and the first snap they get is a safety,” said Richardson. “So that was tough.”
Byrnes marched down the field, Young hitting Braylin Collins for 10 yards on a fourth down to stretch the possession, and the junior QB made it look easy when he sprinted into the end zone from 9 yards out for a 9-0 Rebel lead.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T
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