Northwestern senior linebacker Demetrius Taylor kept seeing the ball in Carol City running backs hands all night.
Through what was at times a blinding downpour, Taylor kept reaching for that football and coming up short.
When Taylor finally got his hands around it, the result was “Bulls Magic.”
With Carol City just moments from putting the game away, Taylor ripped the ball out of running back Cameron Davis’ grasp and raced 22 yards to the end zone for a touchdown that clinched a dramatic 19-14 comeback victory for the Bulls on Saturday night at Traz Powell Stadium.
“I knew the run was coming,” Taylor said. “I knew the count. I knew everything. So I just reached for the ball and swatted it. He was carrying it like that all night. I just got in there, stripped it from him, touchdown.”
Taylor’s touchdown with 1:27 remaining was followed by a safety on the ensuing kickoff as Northwestern secured the District 16-6A championship — its first since 2009.
“It means a lot,” Taylor said. “We're trying to get to state and this is just one step along the way.”
The plays capped a rally from an early 14-0 deficit.
“The game is never over until the clock hits 0:00,” Taylor said. “We said we were going to strip the ball and I did it. Keep playing, just keep playing and have fun.”
In the first round of the playoffs in two weeks, the Bulls (8-1, 3-0 in district) will host the runner-up of Monday’s District 15-6A tiebreaker between Fort Lauderdale Dillard, Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson and Boynton Beach.
Carol City (4-3, 2-1), which had a four-game winning streak snapped, will travel to face the winner of the tiebreaker in the first round.
If both teams win their first round games, Northwestern and Carol City would meet again in the regional semifinals.
“We’re ready for them,” Taylor said. “We were ready for them [Saturday] and we’ll be ready for them then.”
Second-year Northwestern coach Max Edwards, a longtime veteran assistant coach before that with the Bulls, Central and Booker T. Washington, got an extra shower when his players doused him with water. A few ran back gave Edwards a hug and told him, “I love you, coach.”
“We’ve been trying to turn the program around and when you come in to do that, you start by getting the negative out of the program,” Edwards said. “Right now they're trying to play for each other and that's the good thing because they're helping each other on and off the field.”
Northwestern’s point total was the most allowed this season by Carol City, which appeared to have come up with the key stop just seconds before Taylor’s heroics.
Northwestern drove into the Chiefs’ red zone before it was backed up to the 21-yard line. Bulls’ quarterback Chatarius Atwell heaved a ball into the end zone that was knocked down by Irshaad Davis turning the ball over on downs.
Carol City tried to run out the clock as the heavy rain continued to fall, and Taylor saved the Bulls from defeat.
“That’s the kind of player Demetrius is,” Northwestern junior linebacker Billy Joseph said. “He comes up big every game whenever we need it and makes big plays.”
Northwestern had a tough time handling the football early in the game, as Terry Straughter picked up a fumble and returned it 26 yards for the Chiefs’ opening score. Carol City added to it in the second quarter when Nay’Quan Wright broke loose on a Wildcat formation keeper and ran 91 yards to the end zone.
But Northwestern senior running back Kai Henry churned out 89 yards on 23 tough carries. His efforts keyed the final Bulls’ drive and their previous series that was capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Atwell to senior Jude Barthlemy to cut Carol City’s lead to 14-10.
“Something like this is such a big lift for the team because it showed that we have the character to come from behind, to not quit,” Edwards said.