Football High School

Northwestern Rallies Early, Bulls Defense Comes Up Big Late To Win 6A Championship

ORLANDO – Teams all want to “rep their city” – earn victories to make their hometown proud. But few teams share the bond with their city the way Miami Northwestern is intertwined with Liberty City.

That sense of pride may have been the extra intangible thing that pushed the Bulls over the top.

Northwestern rallied from an early 9-0 deficit by scoring 21 unanswered points before it had to come up with a defensive stop late to preserve a 21-16 victory over Seffner Armwood in the Class 6A state championship game Friday night in front of 5,805 fans at Orlando Camping World Stadium.

The Bulls (12-2) clung to their five-point advantage with 1:50 left to play after turning the ball over on downs at the Armwood 39-yard line. Northwestern’s defense, which had to withstand late rallies and preserve leads twice during the playoffs, forced four straight incomplete passes for a turnover on downs – allowing the Bulls to kneel and cement their first state championship since 2007.

The late stop put the punctuation on a dominant defensive performance, where Northwestern allowed just 150 total yards of offense.

As the final seconds expired and players ran onto the field in frenzy, Northwestern head coach Max Edwards – freshly drenched from a celebratory ice water bath – looked into reporters’ cameras and said: “the Bulls are back”.

“This was the goal we had in front of us all year…this is what we worked for. This moment – for our community and our school – is what we fought for all year long,” Edwards said.

That moment was one that Northwestern fans also reveled in.

From 1998 to 2008, Northwestern made five appearances in the Class 6A state title game – winning championships in 1998, 2006 and 2007. But in Northwestern’s 2008 appearance, it squandered away a 21-0 lead and ended up losing 28-21 to Sanford Seminole.

The “Bull Nation’s” yearning for a state title only grew more intense as it had to watch its rival – Miami Central – win five state championships over the next six-year span.

Friday’s victory quenched their thirst as the nearly 4,800 fans on Northwestern’s side sang the school’s alma mater in unison as the team celebrated on the field.

Northwestern senior defensive lineman Demetrius Mayes Jr., who wore No. 1 Friday night in honor of teammate Samuel Brooks Jr. – who sustained a season-ending knee injury back in October, the team bonded through all the adversity it faced in 2017.

“This is the best feeling in the world,” Mayes said.

Armwood (14-1) made the final few minutes interesting when it went on a 5-play, 68-yard scoring drive midway through the fourth quarter. Hawks quarterback Devin Black capped the drive with an 11-yard scamper and cut Northwestern’s lead to 21-16.

But the Hawks couldn’t rally all the way back.

Armwood has had a fair share of misfortune when going up against Miami-Dade County teams in the final game of the season in Orlando.

The Hawks appeared in the Class 6A state title game four times in five years (2011 and 2013-2015), taking on Miami Central in all four meetings. Armwood technically won the title in 2011 but was vacated from the bracket for being found to have used ineligible players. In each of the other three seasons, Armwood came into the state title game with an undefeated record but was handed a loss at the hands of the Rockets.

Including Friday night’s loss to the Bulls, Armwood has been outscored 145-46 in those four meetings.

The Bulls fell behind 9-0 after giving up a safety on an errant punt snap and Armwood capped a short drive with 5-yard touchdown pass, but the Bulls erased the deficit in the same fashion.

Armwood’s Ricardo Watson mishandled a punt snap and ended up losing the ball out of the back of the end zone and the Bulls evened the game at 9 late in the second quarter when Davonne “Bo” Kendrick darted through a crease in the Hawks defense for a 12-yard score.

Northwestern’s run reached its apex late in the third quarter when senior quarterback Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell broke multiple tackles on the way to 51-yard touchdown run with 3:41 left then found senior receiver Kiaryn “Chop” Davis for a 46-yard touchdown pass two minutes later – giving Northwestern a 21-9 lead after two failed extra points.

Atwell finished the game 258 total yards of offense – completing 10 of his 18 passes for 152 yards and rushing for a game-high 106 yards on 15 attempts.

Kendrick added 48 yards on the ground while Justin Hill tied for the game-high four receptions while recording a game-high 60 yards.

A four-year varsity starter for the Bulls, Atwell said that ending his storied career at Northwestern was the perfect ending.

J.T. Wilcox
J.T. Wilcox is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked in South Florida for more than a decade. He authors "The Bald Predictions" blog and "The Baldcast" podcast.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: