Northwestern had all the momentum.
Up 11-0 and with the ball on Central’s 9-yard line late in the first half, the Bulls looked like they were about deliver a big knockout blow to their hated neighborhood rivals.
Instead, joy on 71st Street quickly turned into misery. An end-around handoff to receiver Joseph Robinson squirted free from the talented juniors hands and Central’s Dalvin Cook scooped it up and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown.
That turned out to be all the lift the Rockets needed as they rallied for a 35-17 victory and locked up the District 16-6A title in front of 5,746 fans at Sun Life Stadium.
“It was a big, big uplift for us and gave our kids a little momentum. We were off and running from there,” said Central coach Telly Lockette, whose high-powered offense scored 28 consecutive points in the second half after behind held to just 12 yards of total offense and one first down through the first two quarters. “[Northwestern defensive coordinator Luther Campbell] had our number in the first half, but like playing chess you’ve got to make adjustments. We made our adjustments and came out in the second half and did our thing.”
After forcing Northwestern (6-2, 1-2) to punt on the first drive of the second half, the Rockets converted a fourth and 2 at the Bulls 4-yard line and then scored on Joseph Yearby’s 1-yard plunge with 7:34 to play to give Central a 14-11 lead.
Quarterback Keith Reed then found Da’Vante Phillips on a 20-yard scoring strike to make it 21-11 with 2:42 left in the third quarter. Central’s Da’Wan Hunte then blocked a Bulls’ punt moments later to set up Yearby’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Diaz.
Except for two huge offensive turnovers, the Bulls completely owned the first half.
Northwestern forced a pair of safeties in the first quarter and took an 11-0 lead with 8:34 left in the first half when tailback Darius Tice broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run. Tice finished with 150 yards rushing on 16 attempts — but had just 31 yards on eight carries in the second half.
Homestead’s 23-22 upset of Carol City on Saturday afternoon opens the door for Bulls to remain playoff-eligible even with the loss.
Homestead (6-2, 2-1 in District 16-6A) will host the Bulls on Friday down at Harris Field. If Northwestern wins, they will create a three-team tiebreaker for the runner-up spot.
• Varela 14, Braddock 0: Nine different Vipers carried the ball and Varela’s running game wore down Braddock (1-7, 0-4) on its way to a playoff-clinching win at Tropical Park on Friday night.
Varela (4-3, 3-0) failed to score in the first half but started the second half with a 69-yard Jordan More touchdown run on its second play from scrimmage coming out of the break. More’s 16-yard run on the subsequent drive set up quarterback Storm Smith’s 1-yard plunge.
The Vipers started the game with some unforced errors and penalties, but cleaned up its miscues as the game went on. The sluggish start might have been due to the weather-related lack of practice in recent days, according to Varela coach Carlos Mollinedo.
“We try to keep them prepared, but we didn’t really see them after Wednesday,” Mollinedo said. “We’ll work to make adjustments, but it was a big win for us.”
Varela is now set to play Southwest this Friday for District 15-8A honors.
• Coral Reef 22, Palmetto 12: It was a battle for playoff survival on Saturday morning at Traz Powell Stadium when Coral Reef and Palmetto went at it in a District 16-8A contest, the first game of a tripleheader.
And in the end, it was Coral Reef (4-4, 1-2) that lived to see, at least for another few hours, the possibility of sneaking into the playoffs with the victory.
The Barracudas needed a Southridge victory over South Dade on Saturday night to remain alive for a runner-up berth. Palmetto (3-5, 0-3) was eliminated.
Trailing 15-0 at halftime, Palmetto took advantage of 30-mile-per-hour wind in the third quarter by scoring a pair of touchdowns on a 6-yard run by quarterback Matt Coll, followed by a 30-yard Coll to Wendell Dunn hookup to cut the lead to 15-12.
Still clinging to the three-point lead with a third-and-8 at its own 37 with five minutes left, Coral Reef came up with its biggest play of the game when quarterback Nico Pierre found Tristen Ferguson over the middle for a 50 yard run-and-catch completion. On the very next play, running back Marcus Leslie went 13 yards for the score to clinch the win.
• Homestead 23, Carol City 22: Homestead stopped Carol City on a two-point try with 4:35 left in the game as the Broncos held off the Chiefs in a key District 16-6A matchup at Traz Powell Stadium.
The Broncos (6-2, 2-1) can clinch a playoff spot with a win next week against Northwestern.
Carol City (6-3, 2-2) has already completed its district schedule. The Chiefs’ only hope for a playoff berth would be if a three-way tiebreaker is needed, and then Carol City would have to emerge from that grouping.
It was all part of a six-turnover day for the Chiefs, including two picks by Homestead defensive back Marcus Jackson.
Homestead led 16-0 in the first quarter, but Carol City got back in the game on a pair of touchdown passes from Akeem Jones to William French.
The first one came on fourth down after a negative-4-yard punt into the wind gave the Chiefs the ball at the Homestead 10. The second TD pass was a 58-yarder.
The Chiefs’ Diquan Johnson ran for two-point conversions after each of the first two touchdowns to tie the score, 16-16.
Homestead pulled ahead again on a 5-yard run around right end by quarterback Maurice Alexander. Uriel Hernandez’s extra point made it 23-16.
Jones’ 1-yard quarterback sneak got Carol City to within 23-22, but the Chiefs — whose kicker is out with a groin injury — were forced to go for two again.
This time, Johnson was stopped on what seemed like the identical play that had been successful twice previously.
“We switched up the defensive front,” Homestead coach Patrick Burrows said.
After the conversion failed, Homestead ran out most of the clock, although a fumble by Johnnie Hankins at the Broncos’ 40 had to make Burrows nervous. Homestead recovered the bobble, and one last Chiefs drive went nowhere.
• Monsignor Pace 36, Doral 0: After struggling in the first half, Monsignor Pace opened things up in the second half to pull away to the easy victory on Saturday afternoon in a District 8-4A matchup at Doral Academy.
The Spartans (4-4, 1-2) were led by their two-headed quarterback system of Ben Voke and Kelly Benson, who have split time all season.
Benson completed 5 of 9 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns while Voke was 4 of 8 for 81 yards and a score.