After the clock ran out and the celebration began, there was no denying it anymore.
The Bulls were back.
Miami Northwestern spent the past decade trying to recapture the magic of its football glory days.
On Friday night, the Bulls finally made their way back to the top with a 21-16 win over nationally ranked Seffner Armwood in the Class 6A state championship game at Camping World Stadium.
Northwestern (12-2) won its first state title since its 2007 when it won its lone mythical national championship. The Bulls made their first appearance at state since 2008 when they lost in the final after three consecutive trips to state at the time.
“The Bulls are back,” Northwestern coach Max Edwards proclaimed proudly after the game. “It feels awesome. I can’t describe it. As you can see this is great for the whole community. I’m so happy for the kids and everyone in the community.”
That community — or the “Bull Nation” — was well-represented among the announced crowd of 5,805 that watched Northwestern hand Armwood (14-1), ranked No. 18 by USA Today, its first loss of the season.
“This is one of the best feelings in the world and I can’t wait to do this again at UCF,” said defensive lineman Demetrius Mayes, who helped the Bulls win a state title in the city where he intends to play his college ball. “I already feel like home here. I’m just excited to end my high school career in this way. It’s a blessing.”
Northwestern won its fifth FHSAA-sanctioned state championship tying it with Miami Central, Miami Carol City and Miami Booker T. Washington, and sixth overall counting its 1964 championship from its days in the Big 9 Conference.
And it wasn’t without its share of late-game suspense.
As it did multiple times during dramatic wins in the playoffs over rivals Central and Carol City, Northwestern’s defense found itself in a position where a final stop was needed in order to ensure victory after Armwood took possession at its own 39 with 1:50 left.
Armwood gained only four yards and was stopped on downs after quarterback Devin Black threw back-to-back incomplete passes under pressure.
Mayes, who wore the No. 1 jersey as he said he would to honor injured teammate Samuel Brooks (torn ACL earlier this season), and Walter Fowles split a sack while Zechariah Esdaille and Aaron Louis each had one as the Bulls consistently put pressure on Black, whose elusiveness made him a challenge to bring down throughout the game.
Still, despite a poor start that allowed Armwood to jump out to a 9-0 lead, Northwestern held the Hawks to only 150 total yards.
“The key was to rush the quarterback hard and trust our DBs,” Mayes said. “We have some of the best defensive players in the nation, and we worked too hard to win this.”
Northwestern’s other reliable element came through one more time as he has throughout his four-year career.
After Armwood cut Northwestern’s lead to 21-16 with 6:46 remaining in the fourth, senior quarterback Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell directed a 14-play, 51-yard drive that consumed nearly five minutes and limited the Hawks to only one more chance, setting up the clinching defensive stand.
Northwestern fell behind 9-0 after an errant long snap on a punt rolled through the end zone for a safety and Armwood followed up with a touchdown drive on the ensuing possession.
The Bulls evened things up in the second quarter in nearly the same fashion after Armwood’s same special teams miscue led to a safety and Bo Kendrick capped their ensuing drive with a 12-yard touchdown.
Atwell, who is headed to Louisville for college made the two big plays that put the Bulls ahead for good in the third quarter.
Atwell ran toward the sideline, bounced off a tackler, spun around and found an opening, then sped the remaining 51 yards to the end zone to give Northwestern its first lead of the game with 3:41 left in the third.
On Northwestern’s next drive, Atwell found Kiaryn “Chop” Davis wide open over the middle for a 46-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 21-9 before the Bulls missed the extra point.
“I’ve been at Northwestern for four years and we’ve waited a long time for this,” Davis said. “As a freshman coach Max wasn’t even our coach, but once he got here he told us one day we’d be state champions and he led us to become state champs.”