TUNNEL HILL —
Northwest Whitfield High School beat Pickens 25-13 Friday night at Bruin Stadium, but the numbers that gave the Bruins the win were 6-1.
Northwest’s defense forced six turnovers by the Dragons, while the Bruins had just one fumble lost and just one scoring drive in which they were forced to cross midfield. It was a stout defensive effort against a team that put 47 points on the scoreboard in its season opener, and it was the response to a challenge that Bruins coach Josh Robinson was looking for.
“In our last game (a 38-20 win over Pepperell on Aug. 30), we were really disappointed with the way we played defensively on our first three drives,” Robinson said. “We didn’t want to have that same kind of feeling against Pickens, and I think they came out with the effort we needed.”
Tevin McDaniel had a strip and also took advantage of an underthrown ball for an interception to lead the Bruins’ (2-0) defense, which needed to win the turnover war against the powerful Dragons offense. In spite of the turnovers, Pickens (1-1) running back Shannon Brooks had 174 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, and quarterback Tanner Brumby had 156 yards passing. But the four fumbles and two interceptions — on back-to-back second-half throws — doomed any chances Pickens had of a road victory.
“They have a strong and powerful offense and we knew that we had to stop (Brooks),” said Northwest senior defensive end Caleb Bowie, who had one of those fumble recoveries. “If we do our job, then we know that our offense will be able to capitalize and have our backs when we need them.”
The offense needed the help after a fast start.
The Bruins clicked from the opening kickoff, driving 63 yards in 12 plays that were a perfect mix of running bursts from running back Jacob Webb and steady short passes from quarterback Caleb Shiflett. Webb’s 2-yard run capped the drive with 8:34 remaining in the first quarter, and Miguel Villa tacked on the extra point.
The first of Pickens’ woes followed on its opening possession when Brumby hit Jake Dean for a 13-yard pass but he fumbled to give the ball back to Northwest. Starting at the Dragons’ 49, the Bruins turned the turnover into three points when Villa hit a 35-yard field goal.
“Minus-5 in the turnover column and you are going to lose,” Pickens coach Chris Parker said. “They made some tough plays, and we pressed a little bit to get back. We deserved to lose when you have that many mistakes.”
After Northwest’s opening success on offense, the Dragons started blitzing, and the Bruins’ offense lost its step.
“A big thing with our offense is rhythm, and Pickens did a good job of taking us out of that in the second quarter,” Robinson said. “You look up at the board and you see 25 points, and I don’t know that we had a very good offensive night.”
In fact, the Bruins had less than 250 yards of total offense, and their two scoring drives in the second half were from 14 and 43 yards out with Webb and Shiflett each scoring on the ground. But the offensive numbers mattered little in the end.
“With the turnovers, I thought our offense did a good job of controlling the game in the second half,” Robinson said. “We handled their blitz package a little bit better by running more with our quarterback, but we are not playing a complete game yet. Overall, I can’t complain about the defense, but we have to execute better.”