Byrnes thought it got a test in Virginia to open the season, but it was nothing like what Northwestern gave the Rebels at Nixon Field on Friday.
For much of the game between the Class AAAA No. 1-ranked Rebels and No. 4 Northwestern, the visitors appeared to be the superior team. But as has been the case so many times before, the Rebels found a way to persevere and emerged with a 32-28 victory.
Northwestern (3-1) had a chance to pull off the win late, but the Rebels stopped Trojans quarterback Mason Rudolph on a fourth-and-one run at the Byrnes 43-yard line with 1:10 remaining.
Byrnes, ranked No. 4 nationally in the USA TODAY Super 25, scored the winning touchdown with 6:46 remaining when quarterback Shuler Bentley passed to Greg McHam for a 7-yard touchdown.
“I think our game in Virginia really helped us tonight,” said Bentley, referring to the Rebels’ season-opening 42-21 win against Oscar Smith, a defending state champion in Virginia that was ranked No. 17 by USA TODAY. “This was a really tough team, but in the end we just found a way to win.”
Bentley passed for 361 yards with five touchdowns. McHam finished with seven catches for 129 yards and four scores.
The game more than lived up to the pregame hype. Both teams displayed their big-play ability but were also patient when needed.
Byrnes (3-0) struck first, driving 65 yards on 11 plays with Bentley passing 17 yards to McHam for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked, leaving the Rebels with a 6-0 lead.
Northwestern needed only four plays to score on its first possession. Rudolph’s 1-yard run and the extra point gave the Trojans a 7-6 lead.
After Northwestern’s O’Harrell Davis-Douglas intercepted a pass at the Rebels 43, the Trojans went on a nine-play drive that ended with Rudolph scoring on another 1-yard run for a 14-6 advantage.
Like its opponent, Byrnes was up to a challenge. It completed a 72-yard drive for a score on a Bentley-to-McHam pass and then made a two-point conversion on a Bentley pass to Akia Booker to tie the score at 14.
Byrnes took the lead in the early in the second when Bentley passed to Booker for a 73-yard touchdown. Booker got behind the Trojans secondary and then raced untouched the end zone. The Rebels had another extra point blocked, however, giving it a 20-14 lead. Northwestern has blocked 10 extra points this season.
The Rebels appeared to take control with 2:33 left when Bentley again connected with McHam, this time on a 38-yard pass to give it a 26-14 advantage after their two-point conversion failed.
Northwestern again rallied, scoring once before the end of the half and again in the third to take a 28-26 lead.