By Dave Gordon
TUNNEL HILL —
If Friday night was the opening act of another winning season for Northwest Whitfield High School’s football team, senior Tevin McDaniel played the leading role.
McDaniel starred on both offense and defense, leading the Bruins to a 38-22 victory over Pepperell at Bruin Stadium.
The senior wide receiver and defensive back stripped the ball from Pepperell running back Devyn Collins on the third play of the game, setting up a screen pass from Bruins quarterback Caleb Shiflett, which he took 74 yards for a touchdown.
In all, McDaniel caught seven passes for 144 yards and also broke loose for a 73-yard kickoff return that set up another Bruins’ score.
On defense, he broke up three passes, grabbed a key interception that stalled a Dragons drive and almost came up with another pick later in the game.
Bruins coach Josh Robinson knows the talent McDaniel possesses — and he was as glad as anyone to see a good start from him on Friday.
“He’s uber-talented,” Robinson said. “Last year Tevin was disappointed with the way he played, and this year he has decided he is going to be the star that he is. He’s all over the field and has the ability to be a game-changer every time we step out here.”
Pepperell coach Jeff Shiflett knew it would be tough shutting down McDaniel.
“He’s a good player,” Shiflett said. “That’s what you do with good players is get them out in space. They really got him out in space, and he was able to make some big plays. That’s a very good offense on the other side.”
The Bruins’ supporting cast also pitched in with fine efforts. Shiflett, a junior who took over the starting role behind center in the offseason, finished 11 of 20 passing for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Senior running back Caleb Webb had nine carries for 68 yards, including an up-the-middle 48-yard run with 9:15 left in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
The Bruins have had a winning record eight of the past nine seasons and haven’t had a losing mark since going 4-6 in 2003. But they haven’t made the state playoffs since 2009 and haven’t won a postseason game since 2007. They came up a victory shy of earning a state berth each of the past two years, losing a win-to-get-in Region 7-4A crossover game to Gilmer in triple overtime in 2012.
After the way the Bruins finished last season, Robinson was frustrated by the way his team started on the way to falling behind 12-7 in the second quarter Friday night.
“We were disappointed with the way we played in the first quarter,” Robinson said. “We responded really well and stopped them (after that). They scored 12 points quick and easy on us, running the ball up and down the field.”