Northwestern knew that even after losing to Central last week, it had been given a reprieve in its quest to return to the playoffs.
The Bulls took advantage Friday night at the expense of the team that gave them the lifeline.
Led by another stellar effort from its defense, Northwestern routed Homestead 35-18 at Harris Field to force a three-team tiebreaker for the runner-up playoff berth in District 16-6A.
“We’ve been to the top and the bottom this season and we lost to a very good team last week,” Northwestern coach Stephen Field said.
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“It is the way it is supposed to be now with a playoff scenario to settle and we have to be ready for it on Monday.”
The tiebreaker that will involve the Bulls, Homestead and Carol City will be played Monday night beginning at 7 p.m. at Traz Powell Stadium.
The Bulls (7-2, 2-2) are trying to return to the playoffs a year after having its 20-year postseason streak snapped.
With the tiebreaker seeded by overall records, Homestead (6-3, 2-2) and Carol City (6-3, 2-2) will play the first quarter. The loser will be eliminated and the winner will play Northwestern in another elimination round.
The Bulls used a 21-point fourth quarter to pull away from the Broncos, who would have clinched the runner-up berth outright with a victory. Darius Tice once again helped Northwestern close out the game with several of his 132 yards on 21 carries late. Tice scored a pair of touchdowns, including a 13-yarder to start the fourth.
Quarterback Randy Jones Jr. entered the game late in the third and connected with Joseph Robinson for a 25-yard score. Jones later ran for a 5-yard touchdown.
But Northwestern’s defense set the tone from the start.
Following a 50-yard touchdown run by Tice, cornerback Laverick Johnson followed up with a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the Bulls a 14-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
Homestead answered with superstar junior receiver Ermon Lane, who caught a key 29-yard pass on fourth down to set up a touchdown and later intercepted a pass to set up a field goal that cut Northwestern’s lead to 14-11.
But defensive pressure by defensive end Marquese Blanchard and Northwestern forced three turnovers and recorded five sacks in the game.
“We came out here knowing it was a must-win and we just kept it moving,” Blanchard said. “We were sluggish at first after the Central loss, but we said to ourselves we have five quarters we need to win. We got four down.
“We need one more Monday.”