It would have been easy for Northwestern to fold on the season after a devastating loss to Carol City knocked the Bulls out of playoff contention.
But when the Soul Bowl against rival Jackson is the next game on the schedule, it wasn’t too difficult for Northwestern to get motivated to come out with a bounce-back effort.
And bounce back the Bulls did, defeating Jackson 33-14 on Friday night at Traz Powell Stadium and taking back the Soul Bowl title after one season without it.
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“This is our state championship for the community,” Northwestern coach Max Edwards said. “We didn’t make the playoffs, unfortunately, but for the kids, they got a little bragging rights, and it gives us something to build on next year.
“We were a little upset that we didn’t make the playoffs, so we said we were going to take it out on the rival.”
Added sophomore quarterback Chatarius Atwell: “We kept practicing harder and harder [in the week after postseason elimination] and stayed focused.”
Northwestern (5-5) avenged its 44-15 loss to Jackson in last season’s installment of the long-standing annual rivalry, which was just the Bulls’ sixth defeat at the hands of the Generals since 1978 and first in 10 years.
Northwestern now leads the all-time series 35-13 against Jackson (3-6).
Atwell went 9 for 17 for 199 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He earned MVP honors from the U.S. Marines as the Soul Bowl was the Marine Corps’ Miami-Dade County selection for its Great American Rivalry Series.
Atwell’s 15-yard jumpball touchdown pass to Cedric Frazier midway through the fourth quarter sealed the victory, turning the contest into a three-possession game.
Corey Lane ran for 42 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Al-Malik Moore caught three passes for 58 yards.
Freshman Northwestern defensive end Samuel Brooks had 2 1/2 sacks, and sophomore defensive back Trenell Troutman intercepted two Desmond Phillips passes for a defense that picked off three, registered seven sacks and held Jackson to 138 yards of offense.
“I’ll give them their credit. They have speed on them,” said Phillips, who finished with 82 yards on 4-of-18 passing but had a 30-yard rushing touchdown late. “Our offense wasn’t executing and playing together.”
Northwestern took a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter as Atwell found Christopher Othelot perfectly in stride deep down the Jackson sideline for a 72-yard touchdown.
“I told coach the play before that that it was going to be wide open,” Atwell said. “I told [Othelot] to run the out-and-up, and we hit it.”
A 2-yard plunge from Lane extended the Bulls’ lead to 16-7 before halftime.
Jackson struck first when Phillips hit Sharod Johnson for a 45-yard touchdown on the opening drive.
Friday’s Soul Bowl was the second time in three seasons that neither Northwestern nor Jackson made the playoffs and the Soul Bowl ended each team’s season.