A Miami Northwestern football team made up predominantly of sophomores and juniors learned how to compete with the best teams in South Florida in 2015.
A year later, the Bulls are learning how to beat them.
Northwestern took an early 20-point advantage and then held off a comeback attempt by rival Booker T. Washington for a 27-21 victory Saturday night at Traz Powell Stadium.
The Bulls, who went 5-5 last season, improved to 5-1 and beat the Tornadoes (4-3), who lost their third game in the past month since rising to a No. 2 national ranking following a season-opening win over St. Thomas Aquinas.
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“Everybody wants to break through this year and make it to state,” Northwestern senior linebacker Demetrius Taylor said. “We have a good, disciplined team, but we’re not quite there yet. We have to keep working and clean up our mistakes.”
The Bulls, whose only defeat came against nationally-ranked Plantation American Heritage, will play its three district games in succession beginning Friday with a huge game against rival Miami Central.
With Central down to its final regular-season game, a Northwestern victory would put the four-time defending-state-champion Rockets on the brink of elimination and take away their possibility of winning District 16-6A.
Although the Bulls have shown progress through their first six games, coach Max Edwards still believes his team has much to improve.
“These tough games are making this team believe a little bit, but we have to work a little harder,” Edwards said. “We have a huge one next week and we have to be a more disciplined team if we want to win.”
Northwestern succeeded once again thanks to a play-making defense that was dominant in the first half against a short-handed Booker T. offense and made just enough plays in the second half to hang on.
Taylor’s interception of Booker T. backup quarterback Eddie Arza and 58-yard return set up Tutu Atwell’s 18-yard touchdown run during a 20-0 first half for the Bulls.
Booker T. was forced to play most of that half without starting quarterback Daniel Richardson after he was shaken up on a scramble toward the sideline.
Richardson attempted to dive over the Northwestern bench as he rushed out of bounds and landed hard on the track behind it. He was kept out of the game for precautionary reasons.
Arza, a freshman, completed 4 of 7 passes for 31 yards during his absence.
Richardson returned in the second half and completed 6 of 7 passes for 81 yards on the Tornadoes’ first drive, which he capped with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Sharod Johnson.
Northwestern answered again with the running game as Atwell scored from 1 yard out to cap another long drive.
The score was set up by the Bulls’ running game, which amassed 215 yards.
Junior Kai Henry led the way with 110 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and Atwell totaled 64 yards rushing and 55 passing.
Henry leads Miami-Dade County with 784 yards on 96 carries and 11 touchdowns through the first six games.
Despite the 27-7 lead, Richardson led two touchdown drives that gave Booker T. a chance.
Richardson, who finished with 207 yards on 16 of 23 passes, threw two more touchdown passes including one more to Johnson, who finished with six catches for 55 yards. Johnson leads all Dade receivers with 391 yards so far this season.
But Booker T.’s onside kick with 2:31 left in the fourth went out of bounds, giving Northwestern possession.
The Bulls gained two first downs on the ground and ran out the clock.