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.”