MIAMI, Fla. – Led by the tandem of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and receiver Michaelee Harris, the Northwestern Bulls overcame a sluggish first half and scored 20 unanswered second-half points to defeat rival Central 22-14 before an estimated 12,000 fans at FIU Stadium Thursday night.
Bridgewater and Harris connected on touchdown passes of 8 and 10 yards within a 1 minute 24 second span in the third quarter, then set up a third touchdown – a 5-yard run by Corvin Lamb early in the fourth quarter – with a 58-yard connection as the Bulls knocked off the penalty-plagued Rockets, who entered the game ranked No. 2 nationally in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25.
Bridgewater, a long and lean 6-foot-3, 170-pound junior, finished 12 of 23 for 163 yards and two scores, both to Harris (nine catches, 130 yards). The talented quarterback also evaded heavy pressure with his speed and turned sure losses into positive yards.
Central, which got a touchdown pass and run from highly-touted quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey, couldn't overcome a staggering 26 penalties for 200 yards. Godfrey had modest numbers (7 of 15 for 130 yards, 51 yards rushing) but had several deep passes dropped.
Under unusually warm conditions – even by Miami standards – the nationally-televised game featured two of the top teams in Florida’s Class 6A. The contest deemed “The Commissioner’s Cup” was the first game televised nationally between two Miami-Dade County schools.
Practices and preparation was also covered throughout the week by MaxPreps reporters as part of the Nike 5 Days to Friday series.
When asked how his team managed to climb back after the rocky start, especially coming off a disappointing 35-28 loss to Booker T. Washington just five days earlier, Northwestern coach Billy Rolle simply replied, "I’m glad we came out with the win.”
The Bulls (4-1) took an early 2-0 lead with 3:20 remaining in the first quarter when a high punt snap by Central sailed out of the end zone resulting in a safety.
The Rockets (5-1) answered the score and took a 6-2 lead when Godfrey scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 5:30 remaining until halftime. Godfrey faked a pitch on an option play and muscled his way into the end zone.
The strong-armed quarterback added a 60-yard touchdown pass to receiver Joshua Reese with three seconds left in the half. Reese, a physical 6-1, 185-pound senior, shielded a defensive back, made a tough grab then cruised in the final 5 yards.
A 2-point conversion by running back Devonte Freeman gave the Rockets a 14-2 lead heading into intermission. Central led at that point despite 17 first-half penalties for 130 yards.
Northwestern had two first-half touchdowns called back by penalties and had nine infractions for 72 yards.
Despite Central’s dominant first half, the second belonged to Northwestern.
After a solid defensive effort by the Bulls, Central was forced to punt and it was blocked by sophomore Elgin Hilliard giving the Bulls great field position at Central 21.
Four plays later, Bridgewater capitalized with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Harris. The young quarterback then found junior receiver Eli Rogers for a 2-point conversion cutting the deficit 14-10 with 6:40 left in the third quarter
“Losing to Booker T. last week upset us but I also think it helped us,” Bridgewater said. “Practice was tough all week and I think our coaches did a great job in preparing us for this game. Central is a tough team and I’m sure we we'll see them again in the playoffs.”
The Bulls regained possession almost immediately after recovering a fumble by Freeman.
Still hot from the previous play, Bridgewater went back to Harris with a 10-yard touchdown pass helping his team take a 16-14 lead with 5:04 left in the quarter.
Harris was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
After Miami-bound defensive tackle Todd Chandler stopped Central's Freeman for no gain on fourth down on the Northwestern 9, Harris helped get his team out of a hole with a big 58-yard reception down the left sideline.
That set up the 5-yard TD run up the middle by Lamb (14 carries, 85 yards) with 9:16 left to play. The extra point failed and Central had two more possessions, but penalties and dropped passes once again thwarted the Rockets' efforts.
Meanwhile, Bridgewater ran out the clock with a pair of nifty scrambles, helping the Bulls avoid their first two-game losing streak since 2004. Northwestern fell out of the national rankings after its loss to Washington. Previously, the Bulls were as high as 14th nationally.
“We didn’t execute like we wanted to in the first half, but our guys showed great poise and determination in the second to pull it out,” Rolle said.
Said Rockets coach Telly Lockette: “You can’t beat a team like Northwestern if you turn the ball over and draw penalties as much as we did tonight."
Senior writer Mitch Stephens contributed to this report.