On a night where they could’ve found a lot of trouble and perhaps boxed themselves into a corner where making the postseason was concerned, the Northwestern Bulls survived.
Having just come through a brutal gauntlet of Booker T. Washington, Carol City and Central on consecutive weeks, it might have almost been predictable that the the Bulls might come out flat and sloppy despite a certainly worthy opponent in Norland.
And that’s exactly what happened as the inspired Vikings held a 14-10 lead with nine minutes left in the game before the Bulls scored twice in the last six minutes to rally for a 24-14 victory in a District 16-6A contest at Traz Powell Stadium on Thursday night.
Northwestern entered this week comfortably in the playoffs, seeded No. 6 with Norland square on the bubble at No. 8. But, with teams like Eau Gallie and New Smyrna Beach in the mix, a Vikings upset could’ve thrown everything into a blender.
Instead, the Bulls (4-5, 2-2) would appear to be safely locked into the six slot even if they should stumble next week when they take on Jackson in the annual Soul Bowl.
“Tonight was definitely not Max Edwards Northwestern football, that’s for sure,” said Bulls head coach Max Edwards. “But the bottom line was the kids found a way to get it done in the fourth quarter when they had to in order to come out on top so I’ll take it.”
With a defense that kept them in the game all night, the Bulls offense finally got the break they needed when Timothy Burns picked off Norland quarterback Deon Jones to set his team up at the Vikings 38 with just over eight minutes left.
Nine plays later, the Bulls found themselves with a third-and-goal at the Norland 3 when quarterback Isiah Velez dropped back and drilled a pass to the left side that running back Jacob Baptiste hung on to in traffic for the go-ahead touchdown with 5:35 left.
“They had everything stacked up in the box so we knew we needed to throw it,” said Velez, who finished his night 11-of-15 for 165 yards and the touchdown. “Jacob ran a nice flat route and did a good job of hanging on to it in a crowd.”
After poor field position followed by a short punt gave the Bulls the ball back at the Norland 35, Nathan Noel found a crease in the right side and bolted for a 34-yard score with 3:07 left to wrap things up.
“We didn’t have any doubt in our mind, we knew we would find a way,” said Noel, who enjoyed a big night finishing with 137 yards on 22 carries and two scores. “The defense did a great job of keeping us in it. In the end, Bull pride came through.”
After NW took a 7-0 first quarter lead on a short Noel touchdown run, Bull pride took a major hit as the the offense suffered through two lost fumbles, a botched punt attempt and an interception.
The second lost fumble resulted in a Norland touchdown when Larry Smith scooped up the loose ball and took off 72 yards the other way for a score midway through the second quarter locking the game up in a 7-7 tie at the half.
When Trayon Russell picked off Velez on the third play of the second half setting the Vikings up at the Bull 35, Norland, thanks mainly to a 26-yard pass from Jones to Daryle Riggins on fourth-and-two down to the NW one, took a 14-7 lead one play later on Jones’ quarterback sneak.
An Arlen Navarro 33 yard field goal with 4:04 left in the third trimmed Northwestern’s deficit to four setting the stage for the fourth quarter rally.
The Vikings, 3-6, 1-3, could have virtually locked up a playoff berth with a win but now will continue to hover around the bubble heading into next week when they take on Mater Academy in their regular season finale.