Even though the playoffs are still two weeks away, Friday night’s District 16-6A showdown between Carol City and Northwestern at Traz Powell had all the makings of a playoff atmosphere — and for good reason. The winner was in and the loser was out.
And the news was all good for Carol City fans as their Chiefs overcame a 7-0 halftime deficit to knock off the Bulls 18-14 and punch their ticket to the postseason as the district champions for the first time since 2009. Carol City (7-2, 3-1) will host Dillard on Nov. 13 in a first-round matchup.
The success story comes a year after the Chiefs got left out in the cold, having been the odd team out in a three-way district tiebreaker.
“It’s so rewarding for this program to come back and win a district championship playing a very good Northwestern team after the disappointment of last year getting left out of the playoffs in a tiebreaker,” Carol City coach Aubrey Hill said. “This has been a hungry team all season, the defense was outstanding [Friday night] and the offense came to life in the second half as we got the running game going a little bit and hit some passes we needed to hit. This is a resilient group that just kept fighting.”
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Hill watched as his defense played well in the first half but the offense dropped passes and had a costly holding penalty 28 seconds before halftime that cost the Chiefs a 28-yard touchdown pass and sent them into the locker room down by seven.
Northwestern (4-5, 2-2) grabbed its 7-0 lead on a nifty, well-executed fake field goal late in the first quarter when holder Andre Adams took off around the left side and scooted untouched into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown run.
The Chiefs finally got things together on their first possession of the second half when, following a short Bulls punt that gave them a short field, quarterback Steven Calvert found Kevaughn Dingle for a 34-yard touchdown to cut the Bulls lead to 7-6 following a missed extra point.
Then came the first of two big plays on special teams from Brian Lainer.
When Northwestern punter Cedric Frazier tried to take off on a fake punt on fourth-and-3 from midfield, Lanier wasn’t fooled. He was waiting for Frazier and took him down.
The Chiefs then took the short field and turned it into a 1-yard Nayquan Wright touchdown run with 3:01 left in the third, putting Carol City up for good.
On the next series, Lanier broke through and blocked Frazier’s punt, setting the Chiefs up at the Bulls’ 20.
Seven plays later, following a clutch 11-yard pass from Calvert to Victor Tucker on fourth-and-7 down to the Bulls’ 6, Wright went in again to make it 18-7 with 9:25 left.
“I had a feeling he was taking off and was waiting for him,” said Lanier of the fake punt attempt. “On the blocked punt, I saw the snap was low and he was taking a long time and knew I could get there to block it.”
Northwestern had a late rally, scoring on fourth-and-goal when quarterback Chatarius Atwell took a fumbled snap and took off around the right side, getting to the flag for a score with 1:33 left. Oddly, the Bulls kicked the extra point instead of going for two, which left them down 18-14. The ensuing onside kick attempt went out of bounds, and the Chiefs were just barely able to bleed the remainder of the clock.
“The first half was definitely frustrating,” Calvert said.
“We came out to play, but it wasn’t good enough. Everybody talked about it at halftime, and we came out focused in the second half and executed the plays the coaches called and found a way to come out on top. Coach Hill has been there with us through the rough times, he believed in us all along and there was no way we wanted to let him down [Friday night]. This was for him and the coaching staff.”