The last time Northwestern was one of the last four teams standing in the playoffs Teddy Bridgewater was its quarterback.
On Friday night, Bridgewater played the role of mentor to the Bulls’ latest quarterback star.
Senior Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell delivered a performance that stood out among the many he’s had for the Bulls over the past four years as he ran for a touchdown and threw two more to give Northwestern enough of a cushion to deny Carol City a chance at back-to-back state titles with a 23-15 victory in the Region 4-6A final at Traz Powell Stadium.
For the second week in a row, the Bulls (10-2) nearly let a three-score lead slip away as Carol City (8-4) scored a pair of second-half touchdowns to cut a 20-point lead down to eight early in the fourth quarter.
Once again, Northwestern’s defense made the key stops needed to win.
The Chiefs reached the red zone on their final drive, but quarterback Marlon Smith misfired on his final throw near the end zone with 27 seconds left.
Last week, Northwestern led Central 24-0 before the Rockets scored 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter but ultimately fell short.
Northwestern will host Naples next Friday in the Class 6A state semifinals at 7:30 p.m. at Traz. The Bulls will try to make it to the state finals for the first time since 2008 when Bridgewater, now a quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, led them to a state runner-up finish.
“Teddy was right there by my side every play,” Atwell said. “He helped me make tough decisions and helped me with the calls.”
Atwell said Bridgewater helped him with some play calls throughout the game.
The advice worked well in the first half as Atwell, who has committed to Louisville where he doesn’t figure to play quarterback primarily, showed his versatility once again.
His touchdown passes to Kiaryn Davis and Quayvon Beckford from 13 and 16 yards out built a 23-3 halftime lead for the Bulls. In the first quarter, Atwell’s 27-yard touchdown scamper gave Northwestern a 10-0 edge.
Atwell finished with 180 yards passing and 86 rushing.
“The key was we wanted to spread them out and run the ball to set up the pass,” Atwell said. “I was a little scared there at the end, but I knew my defense would hold them down.”
Although its last two wins went down to the wire, Northwestern coach Max Edwards praised the efforts of his defense. Demetrius Mayes and Calijah Cancey each had sacks and put consistent pressure on Smith to disrupt the Chiefs’ offense.
A couple of turnovers including a muffed punt by Carol City in the first half also proved costly.
“These kids keep showing character and for the second straight week we beat a state championship caliber team,” Edwards said. “I’m not mad because we’re playing those types of teams. To become one you have to beat them.”