Less than a minute went by in Friday’s Sub-region 7B-4A high school football matchup between Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield at Raider Stadium before Northwest’s defense started causing problems for the home team.
A five-touchdown lead for the Bruins was the biggest problem of all for the Raiders — and one they couldn’t erase.
Northwest forced three turnovers in the first quarter on the way to a 45-28 win against an intracounty rival the Bruins have defeated 17 straight times.
The victory earned Northwest (7-1, 3-1) a spot in one of the Region 7-4A play-in games in two weeks against a team from Sub-region 7A with a spot in the state playoffs on the line. With the loss, the hopes of Southeast (4-4, 2-2) making the state playoffs took a hard hit since they no longer control their destiny with one sub-region game left, next week at Dalton.
“It means something to play to go to the playoffs,” said Northwest senior Andy Whisenant, a wide receiver and defensive back.
On the game’s second play from scrimmage, Southeast running back Tyler Brown fumbled and Northwest recovered at the Raiders’ 48-yard line. Eight plays later, Jacob Webb’s 8-yard run gave the Bruins a lead they never lost.
“Without the fumble, we’re real high,” said Abram Stanley, a Southeast wide receiver. “Mistakes happen and I don’t want to blame anyone.”
Northwest’s defense wasn’t finished. Ahead 21-0, defensive back Tevin McDaniel — who already had a 22-yard touchdown run earlier in the quarter — stripped the ball from Southeast quarterback Will Swantic and returned it 28 yards for a score and a four-touchdown lead with 4:25 remaining in the first quarter. On the Raiders’ next possession, a Swantic pass landed in the arms of Whisenant, who returned it 32 yards with 2:57 left in the opening period.
Webb’s second score of the game, a 27-yard run, was the third Northwest score of the quarter. He finished with 31 carries for 165 of the Bruins’ 231 yards rushing and also had a 1-yard score in the third quarter.
Down 35-0, Southeast finally put together a scoring drive. Swantic completed an 11-yard touchdown to wide receiver Colter Faith with 49 seconds left in the first quarter. Swantic found Rhett Harper on a 29-yard touchdown pass with 9:42 left in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 35-14. Swantic finished 13-of-19 passing for 118 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He and Brown combined for 146 yards rushing.
“The second quarter had a lot of breakdowns in our discipline about the angles we run and the things we do,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said. “Because of that, they had some success.”
The Bruins led 38-21 at halftime after Miguel Villa’s 38-yard field goal with 5:17 before the break and Swantic’s 11-yard scoring scramble with 1:18 on the clock.
“I think if we don’t have a disastrous start, it’s a ballgame,” Southeast coach Sean Gray said. “I think our kids sent a message that this isn’t the old Southeast and we won’t lay down.”
Northwest’s defense locked down in the second half and allowed just one first down in the Raiders’ four possessions immediately following halftime.
Webb’s third touchdown came with 9:54 left in the fourth quarter. Southeast’s Harper added a second touchdown reception, a 41-yard halfback pass from Blake Foster with 6:59 left in the game, to close the scoring.