Northwestern’s Isiah Velez throws game-winning touchdown
Isiah Velez had time on the clock and a chance for redemption.
His Northwestern Bulls were down by three with under six minutes left in the Region 4-6A final to district rival Central. The season came down to the senior quarterback who had struggled for most of the game.
It was Velez’s time to prove what he could do. It was Northwestern’s time to remind everyone why it was the defending Class 6A champion.
Five minutes, thirteen plays, and one beaut of a touchdown pass later, the Bulls stormed off the field with a 19-15 win at Traz Powell Stadium on Friday night to advance to the state semifinals.
“I just told myself to keep faith,” Velez said. “I told the offensive line to keep faith. It was the man upstairs.”
Velez completed 10 of 12 passes for 88 yards on that game-winning drive, overcoming a 17-yard penalty midway through the series and converting a fourth-and-2 after Velez mistakenly spiked the ball on third down to stop the clock with about a minute left. The clincher: A 12-yard fade to Romello Brinson in the left corner of the end zone with 37 seconds left in regulation. It was Velez’s second touchdown pass of the second half to his sophomore receiver. The first was a 40-yard catch and run late in the thrid quarter.
“It was an awesome catch.,” Velez said of the game-winner. “He made a hell of a play.”
Northwestern needed plays like that to upend Central, its third consecutive upset in the playoffs after opening with road wins at Mainland and Palm Bay Heritage.
The Bulls (8-5) opened scoring when their defense strip sacked Central quarterback Maurice Underwood. Linebacker Samuel Brooks recovered the loose ball and rumbled into the end zone to make it 6-0.
The Rockets took a 7-6 lead into halftime after Underwood scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper late in the second quarter.
The game continued to be a back-and-forth affair in the second half. Velez’s first strike to Romello made it 12-7 in the third quarter. Central responded in the fourth with a 6-yard touchdown by running back Lexington Joseph followed by a two-point conversion to make it 15-12.
Velez and Northwestern closed it out from there.
“It was awesome. You saw the kid keep his composure and continue to believe in himself,” Northwestern coach Max Edwards said. “We said in the second half we have to come together as a family and believe in each other. They did.”
Even as the defending Class 6A state champions, the Northwestern Bulls came into the year as clear underdogs. District rivals Carol City and Central received all the hype all season.
Northwestern is getting the last laugh, though, as it continues its playoff run while the others watch from a distance.
The Bulls travel to Naples next week with a trip to Orlando and the state championship on the line.
“They were counting us out and we came through in the end,” Edwards said. “We were the defending state champs. We still have the opportunity to repeat.”