It was nothing close to a masterpiece, at least offensively.
But the Northwestern Bulls — about to about embark on a journey to do something they’ve never done: win three straight state titles — did more than enough to shut down Edison, 30-0, in the regular-season finale for both teams Friday at Traz Powell Stadium.
Northwestern managed just 140 yards of total offense on the night — 57 rushing and 83 passing — but the Bulls defense was up to the task, limiting the Red Raiders to 144 total yards and a single trip to the red zone. The Bulls defense also scored one touchdown on a 15-yard scoop and score by Earnest Johnson late in the third quarter, while the special teams also scored once on a fumble recovery off a muffed punt in the end zone for the final score in the fourth quarter.
“Kind of a tough game tonight because you’re just trying to get through it because you know you’re starting the playoffs next week,” Northwestern coach Max Edwards said. “The kids offensively weren’t at their best, but defensively we’ve been getting it done all year and they came through again tonight, and we also got some big plays from our special teams, so all in all, a win is a win. We’ll take it and move on.”
The Bulls (8-2) were already securely in the playoffs as a high seed, but the game was still vitally important. Northwestern and Plantation American Heritage seem to clearly be on a collision course to meet in the Region 4-5A final Nov. 22, and getting home-field advantage for the showdown could be huge.
American Heritage, which is idle this week, came into Friday barely ahead of the Bulls for the top seed in RPI points: .704 to Northwestern’s .698. Now the Bulls will have to wait for the final numbers to come in Sunday to see if they jump Heritage.
Edison, meanwhile, entered the day right on the Region 4-3A playoff bubble as the No. 6 seed, but a loss earlier in the day by Palmer Trinity, which entered Friday as the No. 7 seed, pretty much assured the Red Raiders (5-5) of a playoff berth as they will still pick up more RPI points for playing Northwestern despite the loss.
“We just had to come together, not get too big-headed, not get too lazy and just come out and play tonight,” said Northwestern defensive end Wati Huggins, who piled up nine tackles and two for loss. “We don’t depend on the offense coming into a game. Not only do we come in with the mentality that we’re not going to give any points up but that we can go out there and put points up ourselves, and help the offense and that’s what we did tonight.”
Even the two touchdowns the Bulls offense did score was set up by the special teams. Leading 3-0 midway through the second quarter, Northwestern recovered a muffed punt by Wilkhari Jones at the Red Raiders’ 28-yard line. Two plays later, the offense got its biggest play of the night when quarterback Taron Dickson dropped back and found Marcus Fleming in the back corner of the end zone for a 26-yard score.
Midway through the third, Jones muffed another punt, this time at his own 1-yard line. Two plays later Dickson sneaked in from a yard out to make push the lead to 17-0. Four plays after that, a muffed shotgun snap left the ball loose and Johnson scooped it up for his score. The Red Raiders were done.
“All we do is just go out there and play,” said Bulls defensive back Kamron Kinchens, who recorded seven tackles and three pass breakups. “We just do what we do and don’t worry about our offense. Sometimes it actually motivates us. If they struggle, we just put it upon ourselves to pick them up so that’s what we did.”
Edwards was then asked about the difference between last year and this year. A year ago, his Bulls finished the regular season .500 and entered the postseason completely off the radar before they shocked everyone with their hot postseason run. That’s not the case this year, especially if they enter as the No. 1 seed.
“The difference from last year is the mentality of the kids,” Edwards said. “They know that regardless of where you’re at, everybody is 0-0. You can’t take anybody or anything for granted. Everybody has the same record. Because we were 5-5 last year, some teams might’ve thought we were down, but when the playoffs start everybody has the same record. We may be 8-2, but on Monday we’ll be 0-0.”