Northwestern found its quarterback, and it doesn’t matter a bit to associate head coach Eddie Brown that the new QB was in middle school just two months ago.
Inheriting a two-touchdown deficit, freshman Chatarius Atwell came off the bench to lead Northwestern to a 42-20 victory over Mater Academy on Friday night at Traz Powell Stadium. It was the season opener for both teams.
Atwell’s first varsity pass went for 69 yards to Christopher Othelot and came up just inches short of being a score.
“No safety,” Atwell said when asked what he saw on the play.
Atwell passed for 141 yards and two touchdowns and also ran effectively — both to gain yards (46 yards) and to buy more time for his receivers to get open.
Both touchdown passes went to DeAndre Baker.
Atwell’s numbers would have been even better had a pair of would-be touchdown passes not been dropped — including one by Baker, who was alone behind the defense.
Overall, it was an impressive performance for Atwell, who was intercepted just once.
“He’s been successful in everything he has done [so far],” Brown said. “He does things you don’t expect a ninth-grader to do.
“Chatarius stays on an even keel. If he throws a touchdown pass, he has the same demeanor. If he throws an interception, he has the same demeanor.”
Early on, it appeared that Mater, ranked 16th in the Miami Herald’s preseason rankings, was going to upset No. 7 Northwestern.
While Northwestern is football royalty with a legion of fans and four state titles — tied for the most among Miami-Dade County schools — Mater is new to the party.
Mater opened in 2003 and has yet to make the playoffs, although the Lions came close last season, losing an overtime game on a missed extra point that cost them a trip to the postseason.
On Friday, Mater dominated the early action, starting its first three drives inside the Northwestern 40 because of a pair of interceptions and a high snap on a punt.
The Lions converted two of those opportunities into touchdowns by senior running back Kevin Sanchez. He ran 1 yard for the first score and then took a screen pass from Temothas Herrington to give Mater a 14-0 lead.
Northwestern then benched senior quarterback Marlin Harris, who had thrown those first two interceptions.
After Atwell’s first pass to Othelot, Kenyatta Griffin ran the ball in for a touchdown on the next play, and the Bulls trailed 14-6. The two-point conversion failed.
It appeared Mater would hold that lead at halftime when Atwell was intercepted on a third-down pass at the Lions’ 1-yard line by defensive back Dontavious Brini.
But Northwestern stopped Mater on three running plays and smartly called timeout after each one, forcing the Lions to punt from their end zone with less than 30 seconds left.
The strategy paid off as Mater snapped the ball high and out of the end zone for a safety.
On the ensuing kickoff, Dakari Hopkins ran it back 62 yards for a touchdown with just 8.6 seconds left. Another failed conversion left the score tied at 14-14.
Northwestern’s momentum carried over to the first drive of the third quarter, when the Bulls blocked a punt and scored one play later on a 22-yard pass from Atwell to Baker. A two-point conversion run by Baker gave the Bulls a 22-14 lead.
Mater battled back to cut the deficit to 22-20 on a 1-yard QB sneak by Herrington.
But the Bulls regained control when Corey Lane scored on an 11-yard run with 9:30 left in the game, giving Northwestern a 28-20 lead.
Atwell’s second TD pass to Baker, this one going 11 yards, put the game away with 4:45 left. Lane added a 6-yard touchdown run in the final minute to punctuate the Bulls’ win.