The 18-year-old’s goals helped Bognor ease to a 6-1 win over Eastbourne Town to reach the Sussex Senior Cup quarter-finals.
It was a timely treble, three days after hotshot Chike Kandi’s loan spell at Nyewood Lane ended with a double to down Needham Market in a home Ryman premier clash.
Rutherford is one of two forwards Howell has pinpointed as being capable of plugging the gap left by Kandi’s return to the Amex, the other being Ollie Pearce.
And the Rocks manager hopes his hat-trick doesn’t lead to fans clamouring for him to play every game for the rest of the season.
“I was delighted for him getting a hat-trick and a couple of them were great finishes,” said Howell.
“But he is only young and is still emerging and developing.
“We mustn’t over-play him, even though some will probably think he should be out there in every game for us.
“He’s one of those players who, every time he gets the ball, makes you think something’s going to happen.
“But if we were to play him too much, particularly against the top teams at our level, it wouldn’t do him any good.
“He’s a big part of the club’s future and in time could well be playing as regularly as anyone.”
Doug Tuck, Jason Prior and Sami El-Abd were also on target against Southern Combination premier side Eastbourne in the third-round cup win, which has set up a quarter-final at home to Burgess Hill, pencilled in for Tuesday, January 26. Howell and coach Darin Killpartrick were delighted with a ‘professional’ display against a team who never stopped playing even when they looked well-beaten.
That followed a vital league win over Needham Market, when the visitors’ strong second-half showing looked like earning them a point, only for Kandi to strike late on in the final game of his Rocks spell.
Rutherford, meanwhile, will be hoping for another start this weekend – when the Rocks will now be welcoming VCD to Nyewood Lane in the league instead of palying their planned FA Trophy second-round tie.
Saturday is the designated date for the second round of the Trophy in which the Rocks have been drawn at home to National League outfit Altrincham or Southern premier side Leamington.
Their replay at Leamington has been postponed five times – most recently today – because of a waterlogged pitch and they will now try to get it played on Saturday.
The Bognor tie against the winners will, all being well, be held on Tuesday night - although that will not be confirmed until Leeamington’s sixth attempt to get the Altrincham game on is successful.
The Rocks staging their FA Trophy tie next Tuesday would mean them having to call off their league visit to Leatherhead on Wednesday.
Howell said: “It’s not been ideal not knowing who we’ll be playing.
“Normally you would be getting some background information about your opponents.
“All we could do was wait and see and make sure we are prepared for whichever team are put in front of us.”
Killpartrick said: “We’re in good form and are winning and we just have to concentrate on continuing that trend, whatever the competition.”
Winger Alex Parsons is set to miss out this weekend with a knee injury picked up against Needham.
But midfielder Dan Beck should be okay despite missing Tuesday’s win with a bruised foot.
Utility player Snorre Nilsen proved his fitness after a hip flexor injury with 45 minutes against Eastbourne.
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