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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Northridge's Shaymus Bertagnolli runs past Syracuse's Braxton Lucero as Syracuse High School play.

LAYTON — Football is a man's game, and the team that is stronger and plays more physically usually wins.

That was never more evident than on Friday night when Northridge physically manhandled Syracuse in a 27-12 victory on the Knights' home field. It was the Region 1 opener for both teams, and it showed that Northridge will be a major player in the league title race.

It all started up front for the Knights. After they were blanked by Syracuse and pushed around by the Titans last year, they knew they'd have to buckle their chinstraps on Friday night. They did that, and turned the tables in the physicality department.

"We've got a lot of respect for Syracuse," said Northridge coach Erik Thompson. "They've caused us more problems trying to score against them than any team in the last two years. And really, more than anything, they were more physical than us the last two years. So that was kind of our battle cry coming here."

The rushing stats tell the story of the difference in the trenches between the two teams. The Knights gashed the Titans for 283 yards on the ground while allowing 78. Brock Johnson led Northridge's run game with 122 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. Austin Tate rushed 11 times for 83 yards, and quarterback Trent Buckley had a score.

"Up front is where it started," Johnson said.

You could also say it started and finished with Johnson. Anytime the Knights needed a big play on Friday night, he made one. When Syracuse got close at 20-12 with 4:55 left in the game, Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards and into Titan territory.

Two plays later, Johnson scored on a 43-yard run to put the game out of reach.

The Knights dominated the Titans on the ground without their starting tailback, Jordan Lee. They also had to adjust after losing starting center Haden Flint to a leg injury in the first quarter.

"That kid (Johnson) is a special kid," Thompson said. "Jordan is one of the best players in the state, but I wasn't worried much when he couldn't go. Brock stepped up to the challenge."

Johnson did just about everything for the Knights on Friday night except "get three picks like Austin Gottschalk," he said.

Gottschalk had a ball-hawking night for Northridge, intercepting Syracuse quarterback Tyler Jacobsen three times. He ended drives in the second, third and fourth quarters. He also booted a couple of field goals.

"He's the smartest football player I've ever been around," Thompson said of Gottschalk. "He really tries to put others in position to be successful. That (the three picks) was more him knowing where to be than anything."

Thompson is just glad Gottschalk is on his team — even in practice.

"I hate practicing against our defense because he calls every play out," Thompson said. "When we scrimmage, he's always my first draft pick, so they (the opposition) won't know all of our plays."

Gottschalk and the rest of the defense benefitted from the constant pressure on Jacobsen. Paisa Savea and Marcus Matautia were unblockable at their defensive tackle spots.

"Definitely the game ball would go there (to the linemen on both sides)," Thompson said before reconsidering. "We might have to kill a lot of pigs to give out game balls for tonight."

e-mail: aaragon@desnews.com