Lorenzo Floyd hasn’t been Carol City’s starting quarterback since hurting his ankle on the second play of this season.
But despite the emergence of junior Marlon Smith as the team’s starter, Floyd has still contributed often in key moments of games for the Chiefs.
On Friday night, Floyd came through when Carol City needed it most.
Floyd directed an 80-yard game winning drive that he capped with a perfectly placed 20-yard touchdown pass to Victor Tucker with 20.4 seconds left to help the Chiefs secure a 34-27 comeback win over Northwestern in a Region 4-6A semifinal.
The Chiefs (7-3) will travel to Daytona Beach to take on Mainland next Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the regional finals.
Carol City improved to 5-2 all-time against Northwestern in the postseason and advanced to the third round for the first time since 2004. That season the Chiefs made it to the state semifinals, and that came a year after winning their most recent state championship.
“Our whole word this time around was to finish,” Carol City coach Aubrey Hill said. “We were down. We were up. At the end we just wanted to shoot all our bullets. We threw some new formations in there and Floyd made a great pass and Victor made a great catch.”
Floyd injured his ankle in the opening game of the season, which ended with a loss to Coral Gables. The following week Carol City lost a close game to Oxbridge Academy, but started Marlon Smith, who had left the team to focus on basketball at the start of the season.
Smith led the Chiefs to a four-game winning streak following their 0-2 start. That was halted by the Bulls (10-2), who beat Carol City three weeks ago to secure the District 16-6A championship.
But with Smith hobbled, Floyd got the nod in the clutch Friday night.
“That drive was serious,” said Floyd, who alternated at quarterback with Smith during the game after Smith sustained an unspecified leg injury. “For everyone out there, just stay humble and keep your head in the game. It was one man down and one man up. Marlon would have done the same for me.”
Northwestern was hoping to advance to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008 — the last of three consecutive seasons the Bulls at least played for a state title.
“We had a great season and we’ve brought the program back to being respectable again,” Northwestern coach Max Edwards said. “I think the juniors and sophomores will see the mistakes they made and will come back next year and give it another run.”
But in a game that had five lead changes, the Chiefs finally took their first lead when Cameron Davis scored from 1 yard out with 8:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Although he didn’t carry the ball until the second half and fumbled twice in Friday’s game, Davis earned a measure of redemption three weeks after fumbling in the closing seconds of that earlier loss to Northwestern.
“My heart went out for him when he fumbled again [Friday] early on,” Hill said. “I just told him to keep working and keep fighting. It mirrors life. You have some ups and downs, but we were able to finish.”
Northwestern answered with a tying drive when Tutu Atwell threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Al Malik Moore to tie the score at 27.
Atwell ran for 79 yards and threw for 113 yards and three touchdowns but the Bulls ran out of time in the closing seconds following the Chiefs’ game-winning score.
Carol City’s defense, which allowed over 20 points for the first time this season, still managed to swarm to the ball and sack Atwell seven times.
Junior Yasiir Abdullah led the Chiefs’ defense with five sacks.
Aside from Atwell’s rushing yardage, Northwestern’s running game was limited without leading running back Kai Henry, who carried the ball only once for minus-1 yard. Henry, Miami-Dade County’s leading rusher entering the game, was limited with a foot injury.
Smith and Floyd combined for 288 passing yards and Smith threw three touchdown passes including two to Kevaughn Dingle.
Carol City answered Northwestern scores twice in the first half on touchdown passes by Smith to Dingle.
The first from 28 yards out tied the score at 6 with 10:20 left in the second quarter. The Chiefs failed to take the lead after missing the extra point.
Junior Kiaryn Davis returned the ensuing kickoff for Northwestern 92 yards for a touchdown.
Two possessions later, Carol City tied the score at 13 when Smith found Dingle over the middle for a 12-yard touchdown.
Dingle caught five passes for 82 yards and Tucker caught seven passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns.
“For three weeks all I told my teammates was remember that score [when Northwestern beat us],” Dingle said. “This was sweet redemption.”