A loss to Carol City more than five weeks ago nearly crushed Northwestern’s hopes of returning to the playoffs this season.
But after scratching and clawing their way back week by week, the Bulls got a second chance against the Chiefs on Monday night at Traz Powell Stadium.
Northwestern made the most of it defeating Carol City 7-0 in the decisive quarter of a tiebreaker for the runner-up spot in District 16-6A.
The Bulls (7-2) returned to the playoffs after a one-year absence and will travel to play Hollywood Hills in the regional quarterfinal round 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 at McArthur High School. Carol City (6-3), which beat Homestead 8-3 in the first quarter of the tiebreaker, was denied what would have been its first playoff berth since 2009.
“We always said we want to keep fighting and we dedicate this win to our community,” Northwestern coach Stephen Field said. “This is all about my kids, and I’m extremely happy for them and grateful for all the support we’ve received.”
Northwestern, which won four of its past five games since the Carol City loss on Sept. 27, including a must-win game against Homestead this past Friday, rode the same winning formula — defense and Darius Tice.
With Carol City driving toward Northwestern’s red zone, the Bulls forced a crucial turnover when Germarlonde Hollingshead intercepted quarterback Akeem Jones and returned it 30 yards to the Bulls’ 49.
After a key third down conversion pass from Northwestern quarterback Randy Jones Jr. to wide receiver Joseph Robinson put the ball at Carol City’s 37-yard line, Tice ran the ball nine of the final 10 plays of a 13-play touchdown drive.
His power dive on fourth-and-goal at the 1 gave the Bulls the lead with 3:15 left.
Carol City had one final gasp advancing near midfield.
Northwestern’s secondary broke up three passes and Marquese Blanchard, Miami-Dade County’s sack leader entering the week, caught Jones for a 3-yard loss to force fourth down.
“I was praying to God that we’d win this game,” Blanchard said. “The plays we made were a big lift for our offense because they feed off of us.”
Carol City denied Homestead what would have been its first playoff berth in five seasons with a thrilling comeback in the final minute of the tiebreaker’s first quarter.
Carol City used two big plays to move the ball 77 yards for the winning score in only 63 seconds.
Jones threw a lateral pass to receiver Theodore Hammonds who then stopped and throw across the field to an open Diquan Johnson for a 62-yard gain. On the next play as they have done often this season, Jones found receiver William French for a 15-yard go-ahead touchdown.
The momentum-swing came moments after Homestead’s Dantae Johnson appeared to secure a Broncos’ win when he snared the ball as it bounced off receiver William French’s hand for an interception with less than two minutes remaining.
The Broncos tried to run out the clock, but quarterback Maurice Alexander was stripped of the ball on a scramble up the middle allowing Tyree Johnson to recover with 1:03 left.
• Three wins is enough to make the playoffs — at least it is in District 14-8A.
On Monday afternoon at Curtis Park, Coral Gables (3-6, 2-2) clinched the runner-up playoff spot in the district behind Columbus by defeating Miami High 13-0 and then South Miami 6-0 in a quarter of play against each team in a three-way tiebreaker.
Junior running back Gregory Howell totaled 119 yards and two touchdowns off his 17 carries. He also was in the game on defense on South Miami’s final drive and intercepted Patrick Coats to clinch the victory.
“Your big-time players make big-time plays in big-time situations, and that’s what he did,” Coral Gables first-year coach Roger Pollard said. “He came out and showed why he is a mainstay at Coral Gables Senior High — great student, great athlete, great kid, great overall person.”
The 6-1, 213-pound downhill runner powered his way to most of his yards, lowering his shoulders and bulldozing defenders.
“Being a big guy, my coach always tells me run hard, nobody can tackle me,” Howell said. “And when I listen to that and run hard, it shows — nobody can tackle me.”
After beating South Miami by the same score but with a defensive touchdown in the regular season, the offense provided the scoring this time for Coral Gables.
From 20 yards out quarterback Dijon Smith tossed a perfectly placed pass on a corner route that met Antiwone Johnson at the pylon.
Howell scored his two touchdowns against Miami High. He scampered up the middle for 12 yards on the first score, and when the offense got the ball back, he took his next carry into the end zone from 29 yards away.
Coral Gables caps its regular season against Southwest before facing off against District 13-8A champion North Miami Beach in regional quarterfinals.