Miami, FL– On the eve of the contest between the American Heritage (Plantation) Patriots and the Miami Northwestern Bulls, football fans in South Florida were still talking about the instant classic between Booker T. Washington and St. Thomas played at Traz Powell two weeks ago. The crowd at the Mecca on Friday night could not have anticipated that this next installment of Dade versus Broward, public versus private could rival that ending. But anyone who witnessed the Patriots narrowly escape with a 34-32 victory may beg to differ.
The pace of the game was established on the first play when Patriots quarterback Jason Brown connected with RB Jordan Johnson for a 33 yard gain. The drive stalled, but Heritage kicked a field goal and were up 3-0. Their lead wouldn’t last long though, because WR Nigel Bethel took the ensuing kickoff back 87 yards to the Patriots 10. On the next play, RB Kai Henry scampered into the end zone for the touchdown to give the Bulls a 6-3 lead. Due to K Kelvin Flores being out injured, the Bulls were forced to attempt a two point conversion and were unsuccessful. But, before the Bulls faithful could compose themselves, RB Miles Jones weaved through a sea of blue and gold jerseys for a 90 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The madness continued as the teams exchanged fumbles on the next two plays. The Bulls’ RB Aaron Louis coughed up the football receiving the kickoff, but on first down, Brown dropped the shotgun snap and the Bulls recovered.
After the Bulls went three and out, Brown punished the Bulls defense with his legs, alternating from read-option plays and improvised scrambles. However, the defense stiffened inside the red zone and blocked the Patriots’ field goal attempt to thwart their scoring drive. Bulls QB Chatarius Atwell displayed his elusiveness on the following drive running the football, but the Patriots ended the drive with a sack.
No. 2 Pat Surtain, Jr.
Just as the game developed a sense of normalcy, the action reached frenetic heights again when Brown avoided being sacked by LB Brian Osteen and launched a 76 yard TD to Anthony Schwartz, increasing their lead to 17-6. The football gods were unkind to the Bulls’ Bethel and instead of another electric return, he fumbled the ensuing kickoff, resulting in a Patriot field goal. Then, inexplicably, Bethel did not attempt to field the next kickoff, as if he did not realize that it was a live ball. The Patriots gladly accepted the gift deep in Northwestern territory. But DB Taurus Dotson Jr. intercepted Brown in the end zone to momentarily halt their momentum.
Unfortunately for the Bulls’ faithful, the offense was unsuccessful in moving the ball and after a mediocre punt, the defense again had their backs against the wall. This time, Brown took advantage of the short field and connected with Dontavius Butler for a 13yd touchdown, giving the Patriots a commanding 27-6 halftime lead.
The Bulls seemed resigned to their fate after a non-productive drive to open the third quarter, but the football gods at the Mecca designated their next victim, Patriot DB Patrick Surtain, Jr. Surtain’s questionable decision to field a punt on his own 5 yard line turned catastrophic when he dropped the ball and Northwestern recovered it. Two plays later, Louis plunged across the goal line to make the score 27-12. On the Bulls sideline, the coaches and players exhorted each other, but the fans didn’t believe yet. The Patriots attempted to quell the Bulls’ rally by establishing RB Abraham Alce, a 235 pound bruising back capable of pounding defenses into submission. After a seven yard reception, he absorbed a vicious hit by the Bulls, but held on to the football. On his next carry, the defense swarmed again and this time he fumbled the pigskin. Northwestern drove down the field quickly, and set their sights on Surtain. Roy Livingston took him deep and caught a perfectly thrown pass from Atwell for a 31 yard TD reception.
The Bulls defensive intensity had reached a frenzy, sacking Brown twice and forcing the Patriots to punt. Starting at their 30 yard line, Northwestern used a combination of Henry and RB Kiaryn Davis to drive the ball down the field exclusively on the ground. On the eighth play of the drive, Henry gutted the defense for an 11 yard TD to bring the Bulls within one point, 27-26. However, with no kicker, they were forced to go for two, and Maceo Matthews could not haul in the 2 pt. conversion.
As William “The Voice” Wilcox bellowed, “It’s not OVER…until it’s over,” the Patriots displayed their resolve to finish the job they started in the first half. QB Jason Brown put his team on his shoulders, making plays with his arm and his feet. At the start of the drive, he converted first downs by running. But as he lead the Patriots across the 50 yd line, he completed all three of his passes, including a beautiful toss over the shoulder to WR Josh Alexander, increasing their lead 34-26.
With a little over four minutes to go, the Bulls had one last opportunity to tie the game. Starting at their own 20 yard line, Northwestern seemed content to run the ball directly at the Patriots again. This strategy seemed doomed to fail with the time remaining, but each short gain was followed by a substantial pickup. After seven consecutive runs, the Bulls were 31 yards away from the goal line.
Everyone in the stadium knew who the ball would eventually go to, and Livingston delivered again. With a little over a minute remaining, Atwell dropped back and heaved a rainbow into the end zone. Livingston rose into the air over the outstretched arms of the well-positioned defender and muscled the ball away from him, bringing the Bulls within two, 34-32. A celebration ensued, with Bulls players leaving the sideline box but not going onto the field of play. However, the official assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct against the Bulls, forcing them to attempt the tying two-point conversion from the 17 yard line. Atwell went back to Livingston one last time, but he caught the ball off a deflection just outside the back of the end zone.
After the game, it was hard to tell who had actually won. The Patriot players were huddled together on a knee, surrounded by their coaches, with looks of disappointment on their faces. Coach Patrick Surtain, noticing their dismay, talked briefly about mistakes and then said, “A win is a win is a win. Seven days out of the week. You gotta respect a win.” He understood the difficulty of winning a game in Traz Powell, especially against this team, and he was happy to leave with his record unscathed.
by Wayne Poller, Football Hotbed Contributor