With five state championship banners hanging in the school gym, the Northwestern football program has enjoyed an enormous amount of success over the past two-plus decades.
But the one Bull Nation, which turned out in full force on Saturday, might be talking about for a very long time was the sixth one they got on Saturday.
Northwestern, sitting on the scrap heap at 3-5 following a lopsided loss to Central on Oct. 19, put together one of the more unlikely runs anyone will ever see and capped it off late Saturday afternoon as players, fans, coaches and administrators celebrated following a dominating defensive performance and 22-0 shutout of Seffner Armwood in the Class 6A state championship game at Camping World Stadium.
The Bulls, who wound up winning their final seven games to finish 10-5, also made history as they became the first Miami-Dade County team to win six state titles, breaking out of a three-way tie with Booker T. Washington and Central.
“What an awesome feeling,” said coach Max Edwards. “As you can see the entire community is here in the stands to enjoy this and support the kids. We never said we were going to go undefeated but our goal was to get back here and defense this title and that’s what they did and got the job done.”
You want dominating? Led by defensive linemen Calijah Kancey, University of Miami-bound Samuel Brooks and linebacker Terrence Lewis Jr., the Bulls defense terrorized Armwood quarterback Cam’ron Ransom all day long not only sacking hime five times, once for a safety, but pressuring him even when he didn’t get sacked.
The Hawks (13-2) couldn’t run the ball either. The final numbers? Armwood had 17 rushing yards, 31 passing for a total of 48 and just four first downs all afternoon as the Bulls recorded Miami-Dade County’s first shutout in a championship game since Norland blanked Crawfordville Wakulla 38-0 in 2011.
They also scored two of the team’s three touchdowns, the first one coming in the second quarter when Kancey was about to sack Ransom who then threw up an ill-advised desperation pass that Timothy Burns Jr. picked off and tightroped down the sidelines 23 yards for a score to give the Bulls and 7-0 lead at the half.
Lewis led the way with eight tackles, four for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble which led to a touchdown when Brooks scooped up the loose ball and bolted 55 yards for a score to make it 20-0 midway through the third quarter. Kancey also had two sacks and three tackles for loss.
“I actually prayed in the locker room about a fumble recovery and God made it happen,” said Brooks. “After halftime, I prayed, and it just happened.”
“Amazing, just unbelievable,” said Edwards when asked about his defense. “We had a real good week of practice this week, understood what we were going to see and went out there and executed. That said, it still shocked me that they were able to shut that team down as much as they did.”
“I stressed it to the defense all year that I wanted to work for a shutout,” said Kancey. “Every game, we got closer and closer. To start 3-5 and be here like this right now? It feels great. All the non-believers, we surprised them. They didn’t believe in us. We had to believe in ourselves.”
With just 256 total yards, the Bulls offense didn’t exactly light things up on Saturday but did a good job of playing mistake-free football and letting a shutdown defense do the rest.
The one big play they did make came early in the second half when, on third-and-four from his own 35, quarterback Isiah Velez found Nathan Noel on a short pass over the middle. Just when it looked like Noel was about to drop the pass, he juggled it twice before reeling the ball in, then juked an Armwood defender and took off down the sidelines for a 65 yard catch and run score.
The Bulls got their final two points when, once again, Lewis and Kancey chased down Ransom who was forced to get rid of the ball from his own end zone and was called for grounding resulting in a safety.