Commentary

Miami Northwestern goes wire-to-wire as No. 1

Miami Northwestern started the season No. 1 in ESPN HIGH's Elite 25. After winning the Florida Class 6A championship in dominating style, it ends it No. 1 as well, writes Christopher Lawlor.

Originally Published: December 16, 2007
By Christopher Lawlor | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It started in the third quarter. What began as a few voices became an ocean of sound crashing down to the field of the Florida Citrus Bowl.

The chants of "We're No. 1" cascaded from the upper reaches of the Northwestern (Miami) cheering section. The words, and the win that accompanied them, validated a season in which the Bulls captured their second straight Florida Class 6A state championship Saturday night before 21,235.

Northwestern, No. 1 in the ESPN HIGH Elite 25, also can lay claim to a national championship following a 41-0 lopsided victory over Boone (Orlando).

Our goal was to win a state championship but if they want to throw in a national championship I'm for it.

-- Bulls coach Billy Rolle

The second half was a countdown to greatness as Northwestern fans pointed their index fingers skyward, signifying another championship. The game was so one-sided heading into the fourth quarter that a running clock was used for the final 12 minutes.

"Our goal was to win a state championship but if they want to throw in a national championship I'm for it," Northwestern coach Billy Rolle said.

The Bulls completed a wire-to-wire finish atop the Elite 25 rankings whipping a previously undefeated team. Northwestern recorded its second straight 15-0 season, winning the nation's most difficult high school football tournament, and its 30 game winning streak is the longest current streak in Florida.

Need more proof of just how good the Bulls are? Consider the following:

• Jacory Harris, the University of Miami-bound quarterback, triggered an attack offense that averaged 42 points a game this season. Harris, who left the championship game on the first play of the fourth quarter with a knee injury, was 17 of 32 for 281 yards and two touchdowns. He concluded the season with a Dade County-record 49 TD passes (second all-time in Florida). "He [Harris] did a great job all year," Rolle said.

• The defense was nearly airtight, posting five shutouts, including the final game. The Bulls allowed 143 points against some of the top teams in Dade County. Against Boone, the Bulls allowed 65 yards on 27 plays in the first half and 100 for the game.

• The resilience of these players is unmatched. In July, the entire Northwestern coaching staff was let go in the aftermath of a sex scandal involving a former player and an underage female student. Instead of breaking apart, the Bulls pulled together. Harris and defensive tackle Marcus Forston ran practices until a new coaching staff was hired. "We stuck together like a family," Harris said.

• Rolle showed why he is one of Dade County's all-time top coaches. He inherited a loaded squad with 26 returning seniors in July and knew better than to tinker with it. He won his third Class 6A state championship in his second stint with the Bulls. Rolle previously won a 6A title with Northwestern in 1998 and his second with Killian (Miami) in 2004.

The Bulls tucked this one away during a two-minute stretch of the second quarter. Leading 6-0, Northwestern used ball-hawking skills on defense and special teams to build a 21-0 edge.

Boone, which is located less than four miles from the Citrus Bowl, nearly gave its fans a reason to cheer. Late in the second quarter the Braves marched to the Northwestern 5-yard line but the Bulls forced a fumble and dashed Boone's best scoring opportunity of the game.

The second TD of the stretch occurred on a blocked punt as Sean Spence returned it seven yards for the score with 3:44 left in the first half.

Tevin McCaskill's 25-yard TD grab made it 28-0 early in the third quarter and the route was on.

Wide receiver Kendal Thompkins scored twice in the third quarter, catching a 25-yard pass from Harris and then returning a punt 69 yards. Backup quarterback Wayne Times threw a 29-yard TD pass to Aldarius Johnson (seven receptions, 84 yards) to close out the scoring.

"We showed all the doubters we are the No. 1 team in the nation," said Johnson, who is one of six Northwestern players headed to the University of Miami next season. "We went to Texas and beat the No. 2 team [Southlake Carroll] and now a second state title."

The Bulls learned a lot from that September game with Southlake Carroll. In front of a hostile crowd of nearly 32,000, Northwestern topped then-No. 2 Southlake Carroll 29-21. Needless to say, big games and big crowds are hardly intimidating for the Bulls.

"We matured as a team from games like that one," Harris said.

When the top-ranked Bulls emerged from the tunnel for pregame warm-ups, the orange-clad Boone faithful serenaded them with chants of "overrated."

The words only motivated the Bulls; the defense limited Boone's star running back James Washington to 54 yards on 13 carries. Washington entered the game with 925 rushing yards and 15 TDs. The Bulls outgained Boone in yardage, 120-9, in the opening 12 minutes.

Northwestern's victory was the third for a South Florida school this month. Earlier in the day, No. 4 Booker T. Washington (Miami) captured the Class 4A crown and No. 10 Pahokee took the 2B title last weekend.

Cheryl Golden, the commissioner of the 38-school Greater Miami Athletic Conference, proudly raised two fingers afterwards.

"That's two for two," she said referring to GMAC members BTW and Northwestern corralling state titles Saturday. And Golden wasn't shy about labeling the Bulls as one of the greatest teams in state history.

"No one I've seen comes remotely close to them," she said.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys and girls basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.