During North Forsyth’s third game of the season against Northview, Raiders quarterback Carter Mullikin took the snap in his team’s own territory and looked ahead.
The big and experienced offensive line in front of him had positioned itself to one side and given Mullikin a hole to dash through. He took off down the sideline, barely outpacing defenders and eventually reaching the end zone to help the Raiders to a 48-21 win.
“I thought I was going to get caught,” Mullikin said. “Sixty yards is a long way to run. It was fun, though -- there's not really a feeling like it.”
Mullikin finished with four rushing touchdowns that night, and added four more in last week’s overtime loss to Kennesaw Mountain. He’s now had three games with over 100 yards rushing. That kind of success on the ground has been the story not just of Mullikin, but of North’s offense so far. With just one passing touchdown on the year, the offense is a far cry from the air raid attack that has been the Raiders’ identity in past years.
Last year, quarterback Ben Bales carried North’s offense with his pocket-passing prowess, throwing for 3,024 yards and 24 touchdowns, with five different receivers hauling in scores. Raiders head coach Robert Craft saw the less appealing side of those numbers, though.
“Truthfully, we were probably more unbalanced (last year) than we wanted to be,” he said. “I think we're back to(being) more of a balanced football team. It helps control the tempo, the clock, our defense.”
When Bales graduated, Mullikin was tapped as his replacement after moving over from safety. Early on, North’s coaching staff knew that Mullikin wasn’t going to be another Bales. He had a different skill set, one with more mobility. With a returning offensive line that featured Ole Miss commit Jeremy James, Craft quickly got an idea of how his offense was going to look.
“We really thought we were going to be a team that was going to be able to run the football well and with that, be able to control the line of scrimmage and control the tempo of the game,” Craft said. “I'm really proud of how our offensive linemen have played.”
At the outset, though, Mullikin had a rough start. In his first game of the season, against Cherokee, he had five interceptions and completed just 9 of his 29 passes. He did rush for 114 yards and a score, including one run of 62 yards. His first experience as a starting quarterback taught him to put more trust in his line and the playmakers around him.
“I think mostly, after that game I just kind of learned to slow the game down,” Mullikin said. “That was my first real start in a game that mattered at quarterback. It's a lot different than defense. There's a lot more to think about.”
The Raiders had even more to think about after the first game, with starting running back Bryson Trigg breaking his collarbone early in the first quarter that first week. Honus Wagner came over from defense to take over his spot, and even though the Raiders had plans to use Mullikin’s legs before the season, his role in the offense grew even larger.
That was certainly evident against Kennesaw Mountain, when he received a season-high 23 carries, with most of them being designed quarterback runs.
“We want to get the ball in our best players' hands, and he’s certainly one of those guys,” Craft said. “Every game we're going to go in trying to give him a certain amount of touches. He's done a really good job of being productive with those touches.
Craft said the Raiders still plan to feature their talented receivers on the perimeter to keep defenses honest. Mullikin admits that he and the team never expected their rushing numbers to be this high with their starting running back out, and he gave credit to his coaching staff, the play calling and the offensive line for his success.
Now, Mullikin is just looking forward to running wild for the rest of the year – even if some of the carries are much shorter than 60 yards.
“There's been numerous times that we’ve ridden on Honus or Bryson all the way down the field, and I get to be the one to punch it in for a yard or two,” Mullikin said. “It makes the stats look good and it's whatever works. I felt bad a couple of times, stealing touchdowns.”