It was hardly your average spring game for the Northwestern Bulls, who made the three-hour trip north up I-95 to take on Brevard County powerhouse Cocoa High School on Friday night.
The Tigers, winners of three consecutive state titles (2008-10) followed by a pair of state semifinal losses to Booker T. Washington the past two years, proved to be a tough test for the Bulls.
But in the end, Northwestern came through with a strong second-half performance, especially on defense, to pull out a 17-11 victory.
Northwestern coach Stephen Fields was happy with the win and at the same time happy that his team went on the road against a quality opponent and came out on top.
That’s because the Bulls will have one of the toughest schedules in the country when they kick their season off in late August.
Not only will they be in a brutally tough district with Homestead, Carol City, Norland and rival Central, but the Bulls’ nondistrict schedule will feature games against two other defending state champions other than Central in St. Thomas Aquinas (Kickoff Classic) and Booker T., as well as road games against Jacksonville Raines, Belle Glade Glades Central and Blanche Ely.
“Our athletic director did a great job of putting a challenging schedule together and a tough game like this was all part of us getting ready for that schedule,” Fields said.
“I can’t be more pleased with how hard we came out tonight and the intensity we played with, especially defensively in the second half.”
The Bulls could not have gotten off to a better start than hitting for a 79-yard catch and run touchdown pass from quarterback Trevis McKinney to slot back Jo Jo Robinson who juked a pair of Cocoa defenders off a simple flat pass and turned it into a score and 7-0 lead but the Tigers controlled the remainder of the first half and led 11-7 at halftime.
Northwestern took the lead for good midway through the third quarter when McKinney and Robinson hooked up again, this time from 35 yards out. Placekicker Ruben Piraquive added a 38 yard field goal late in the third quarter and the Bulls defense took over from there as Jamarion Samuel picked off one pass with 3:20 to go and Khalid McGee got one on the last play of the game to seal the win.
• Deerfield Beach 51, Dr. Krop 0: Danarious Graham threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns, and the trio of Brandon Powell, Aeron McNeal and Alex Pierre combined for 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns as host Deerfield Beach (6-4 in the fall) routed Dr. Krop in spring football.
Despite three Deerfield Beach turnovers, the Bucks moved the ball at will, gaining 248 first-half total yards to Dr. Krop’s minus-25 to take a 31-0 halftime lead.
Graham, a junior, threw for 226 yards in the first half alone, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Powell on the game’s opening series and a 52-yarder to Justin Morgan.
The Bucks defense, which didn’t give up a first down until time expired at halftime, contributed to the scoring with two safeties. Linebacker Quinton Briggs and Jason Strowbridge sacked Lightning quarterback Clifford Hamilton for a 4-yard loss in the end zone.
Less than a minute later, Michael Green dropped running back Jeremiah Pierce for a 4-yard loss in the end zone for the second defensive score against Krop (5-6 in the fall, including a first-round playoff loss).
• Late Thursday — Miami Beach 12, Coral Springs 8: Tiandre Bellinger scored both touchdowns, the first a receiving score for 35 yards and the second a 5-yard rushing touchdown with 30 seconds left in the game.
Malik Williams had three catches for 100 yards.
Brent Baker, Tedly Joseph and Philip Mackey had great defensive efforts for the Hi-Tides.
Florida Christian catcher Zach San Roman earned Class 4A-2A baseball honorable mention.