For the second game in a row, Northwestern’s defense kept it close until senior running back Darius Tice delivered the winning score.
Tice’s 51-yard touchdown run with 1:48 remaining helped the Bulls rally for a 10-7 victory against Columbus on Saturday night at Traz Powell Stadium.
Northwestern (5-1) trailed until that point in the game, but its defense forced three turnovers and kept the Explorers (4-3) from putting the game out of reach on several occasions.
Bulls defensive lineman Michael Smith had two sacks on Columbus’ final drive and forced a fumble on the second that Jaquatin Victrum recovered with 11 seconds left.
The victory was the second in a row for Northwestern following a bye week and a 7-0 win against Southridge, whose finish mirrored Saturday’s final moments. Tice broke a 72-yard touchdown run in that game in the closing moments.
Tice finished with 147 yards on 14 carries.
“Tice is the home run hitter on this team that we need,” Northwestern coach Stephen Field said. “The offensive line two weeks in a row has done a great job opening it up for him to break a big run late.”
Field knows the value of wins like this for his team, which faces three critical district games during the next three weeks against Belen, Central and Homestead.
Northwestern is vying to return to the playoffs. Last season was the first time the Bulls missed the playoffs, snapping a streak of 20 seasons.
“One thing we always talk about is to keep fighting and keep grinding,” Field said. “Coach [Luther] Campbell does a great job with that defense. And these guys just have a passion and belief that they can win. When there’s two minutes left in the game, we still feel we have a shot.”
Columbus opened the game on a high note when Joe Rodriguez intercepted quarterback Jabari Dowling on the game’s first play and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
But the Explorers mustered little else on offense.
One of the few sparks came when Daryl Chestnut broke a 75-yard run down to the Northwestern 9 line late in the third quarter. But the Bulls stopped Columbus four plays later on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
In addition to Rodriguez’s interception, Columbus had two more as Adrian Campbell and Nick Fernandez each had one.
Fernandez’s pick was set up after Matt Freixa pinned the Bulls at their own 4-yard line with a 49-yard punt.
Fernandez seemingly gave Columbus possession inside Northwestern’s 3-yard line after a 27-yard return.
But a penalty for an illegal block nullified the return and put the ball at the Bulls 37-yard line. Three plays later, Freixa’s 51-yard field-goal attempt fell short.
Columbus was also stopped on downs three times in the second half while trying to add to its 7-3 advantage.
• Archbishop McCarthy 31 Barrington Christian 20:Archbishop McCarthy’s (5-1) Frantz Petitpapa is listed as the team’s running back, free safety and kick returner, but on Saturday night against Barrington Christian (0-6) he fulfilled his duty as team captain by leading the Mavericks to victory.
Petitpapa finished with 110 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns and added an interception on defense.
Barrington Christian’s Jarrell Holmes led his team with 71 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards. Holmes caught a 9-yard touchdown pass, as well.
• Edison 48, Westland Hialeah 28: For three quarters, Edison and Westland Hialeah went at it like a pair of prizefighters trading touchdowns as the teams were tied at 28 entering the fourth quarter.
But it was the Red Raiders who emerged in the fourth quarter as they scored three times to pull away to the 20-point victory in the nondistrict matchup at Milander Stadium.
The key play came on the second play of the fourth quarter when Westland (3-4) fumbled a shotgun snap.
Edison (2-3) recovered at the Wildcat 43 and, nine plays later, on fourth-and-13, scored when Franklin Labady found Maurice Nelson for a 17-yard touchdown pass to snap the tie.
Labady, who enjoyed a huge night on the ground, rushing for 176 yards on 21 carries, locked things up with an 18-yard scoring run with 1:43 left to put the Red Raiders up by 14.
Tyquane Williams put the finishing touches on things when he returned an interception 100 yards on the final play of the game.