Quickly, Northwest Whitfield High School’s season outlook changed dramatically.
Those 10 minutes and 38 seconds were glorious ones for the Bruins.
That’s how long it took for Northwest to dismantle a 14-6 Pickens lead and turn it into a 39-14 lead in the fourth quarter, and eventually win 39-21 at the Dragons’ field with a Class 4A state playoff spot on the line.
Northwest travels to Carrollton next week for the first round of the state postseason. This is the Bruins’ first trip to the state playoffs since 2009.
“(Winning nine games) has only been done once before by us in the regular season,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said. “Also, to play another game and maybe another and maybe another, it’s huge for those kids.”
Maybe the difference for Northwest (9-1) was Caleb Shiflett’s five touchdown passes, three to wide receiver Andy Whisenant. Maybe it was linebacker Blake Ownbey’s interception.
Whatever you talk about, everything started when running back Jacob Webb, who had two fumbles already, broke a 45-yard run to set up Shiflett’s first touchdown throw. His 7-yard toss to Whisenant made it 14-12, Pickens (6-4) still leading, with 5:03 remaining in the third quarter. The two-point conversion failed.
“I didn’t want my senior year to end,” Webb said.
On Northwest’s next possession, the senior broke a 32-yard run and Shiflett hit Whisenant for a 19-yard score to give the Bruins their first lead, 18-14.
“The safety was playing on the opposite side of the field,” Shiflett said, “and one on one, Andy can make plays.”
Pickens didn’t complete a pass for the first three quarters. The only of quarterback Tanner Brumby’s first nine passes that was caught by either team was Ownbey’s interception with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter.
“I just saw it and read it well,” Ownbey said.
Whisenant caught his third touchdown, a 17-yarder, on the next play for a 25-14 lead.
After Pickens grabbed a 14-6 lead with 6:26 left in the third quarter on Shannon Brooks’ second touchdown run — set up by Webb’s second fumble — the Dragons didn’t gain a first down for four straight possessions.
Northwest kept scoring touchdowns. Shiflett found Webb on a 27-yard wheel route for a 32-14 lead with 9:36 remaining in the game. Then Tevin McDaniel caught a 56-yard pass from Shiflett to end Northwest’s offensive explosion with 6:25 remaining in the game.
“It was a combination of us doing some things bad and them doing some things well,” Pickens coach Chris Parker said.
Brooks ran for 165 of Pickens’ 280 yards rushing. In the second half, he only gained 47 yards on 15 carries.
“We only had seven guys in the box because our front seven is that good,” Robinson said. “I thought our defense played really well.”
Brooks’ 4-yard run with 5:52 left in the opening quarter gave Pickens a 7-0 lead, but twice Northwest’s defense forced a turnover on downs in the red zone. Northwest had the ball in the red zone twice in the first half but only came away with points once. A mishandled snap by Webb on fourth down ended a Bruins drive, but Miguel Villa made a 43-yard field goal at 10:29 in the second quarter and a 29-yarder at 7:27.
Pickens led 7-6 at halftime, where Northwest only had 84 yards passing and 34 rushing. The Bruins finished with 246 passing, all from Shiflett, and 160 rushing, with Webb owning 154.