Northwestern players and coaches aren’t shy about it.
They shouted it plenty after the game.
And even coach Max Edwards gathered a few of his defensive leaders together on the sideline once the outcome was no longer in doubt and told them.
"Best defense in the nation."
While it’s a subjective claim, a nationwide audience got a chance to judge for itself on Thursday night when the Bulls made numerous key stops that secured them a 16-7 victory over Carol City in a pivotal District 16-6A matchup at Traz Powell Stadium.
Northwestern (5-1, 2-0 in district) won the contest, broadcast live nationally on ESPN2, and secured a measure of payback against Carol City (4-2, 2-1), the reigning Class 6A state champions.
Northwestern beat Carol City in the regular season last year, but was subsequently eliminated from the playoffs in the second round by the Chiefs.
Thursday’s game was the first crucial meeting between the top three teams in the district that also includes Miami Central.
Northwestern faces Central (6-1, 1-0) next week on Oct. 20 at Traz, and Central will then face Carol City at Traz on Oct. 27.
"I believe [the win] lets everybody know that we’re back a little bit, but we still have a long way to go and being in the toughest district in the state, we’ve got no time to celebrate this one." Edwards said.
Northwestern’s defense forced only one turnover on an early interception by University of Florida commitment Divaad Wilson, and recorded one sack in the fourth from junior outside linebacker Samuel Brooks.
But the Bulls made three goal line stands inside their own 5, held a Carol City team was averaging 42 points per game over its last four games to only 100 total yards and 28 passing.
"I don’t care what anybody says we’re the best team in the nation," Wilson said. "That’s a state championship team over there and we shut them down."
The irony was Carol City entered the game having allowed only six points in five games this season and had shut out its past four opponents.
Brooks, one of the top recruited juniors in the country, suffered a left knee injury when he came down awkwardly after sacking Carol City quarterback Marlon Smith.
Edwards declined to comment on the extent of the injury, but Brooks was on the trainer’s table and being fitted for a knee brace after exiting the game.
"He’s the best junior in the state and hopefully he’ll be back doing what he does," Edwards said. "He’s a kid with tremendous character."
Edwards coached his first game since being hospitalized two weeks ago in Bradenton just prior to Northwestern’s game against IMG Academy.
"It feels good to be back on the field tonight with the kids, kind of like where I belong," Edwards said. "I hadn’t been taking my meds and I guess I just had a reaction to that with the chest pains. They kept me in the hospital for a few days as a precaution and wanted to make sure everything was good."
▪ The Chiefs mustered only seven first downs and none of them came in the second half.
▪ Wilson and senior linebacker Jalen Kelly stuffed University of Miami commit Cam’Ron Davis near the goal line after the Chiefs recovered a fumble in the red zone.
▪ After Kent State commitment Mark Carter blocked a punt, Northwestern’s defense held again on downs in the red zone.