With Division II, Region 7 computer points on the line for two high school football teams that aspire to be playing into November, the matchup between Northland and host Whitehall lived up to the hype Aug. 31.
The Rams returned an interception for a touchdown and recorded a safety on their way to a 31-28 victory as they improved to 1-1.
The Vikings, who fell to 0-2, won by the same score last season.
“We just stayed focused and kept our heads in the game,” Rams senior wide receiver Christian Gordon said. “This was a redemption game.”
Whitehall took a 29-21 lead when Arjai Burress returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown with 1 minute, 49 seconds left in the third quarter. The extra-point attempt went off the crossbar, but the Vikings were called for roughing the kicker and Raymell Byrd ran for the two-point conversion.
Then with 11:41 remaining, John Branham Jr. ran for a 28-yard touchdown and Northland elected to kick the extra point, which was good by Isiah Golden to make it 29-28. The Vikings began the drive at the same yard line because of a bad snap on a punt attempt.
With 8:40 left, Branham Jr. was tackled in the end zone for a safety by Whitehall’s Rasheed Muhammad to complete the scoring.
“The difference was, relative to last week, they really trusted each other and played together,” Rams coach Rod Lightfoot said. “Tonight, we put together some nice drives and we finished every play, especially in the fourth quarter.”
Northland took a 7-0 lead when Branham Jr. ran for a 54-yard touchdown on his team’s second play from scrimmage.
Byrd then ran for a 7-yard touchdown with 7:23 to go in the first period, but the Rams missed the extra point.
On the ensuing drive, Whitehall’s Melvin Tensley intercepted a pass from Northland quarterback Kalil Branham to give his team the ball at the Northland 36. The Rams then got a 22-yard run by Christian Gordon on a reverse to move to the 3 and Juvaun Blackshear ran for an 8-yard touchdown two plays later for a 13-7 lead.
With 9.4 seconds left in the opening quarter, Branham Jr. ran for a 1-yard touchdown for a 14-13 Northland lead.
After the teams exchanged punts, Northland took over at its own 5 and was dropped to the 1 on the next play. However, runs of 20 and 49 yards by Branham Jr. later in the drive moved the Vikings into good field position and Kalil Branham passed to Jesse Prewitt III for a 25-yard touchdown for a 21-13 advantage.
Whitehall then scored on a 7-yard run by Byrd with 2:01 left in the second quarter and Byrd hit Von Williams for the two-point conversion to tie the score at 21 heading into halftime.
“Up front, their blitz hurt us,” Northland coach Brian Staats said. “We’ve obviously got to shore some things up and go forward.”
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final NORTHLAND 14 7 0 7 28 WHITEHALL
13 8 8 2 31
N—J. Branham Jr. 54 run (Golden kick)
W—Byrd 7 run (kick failed)
W—J. Blackshear 8 run (Carchure kick)
N—J. Branham Jr. 1 run (Golden kick)
N—Prewitt III 25 pass from K. Branham (Golden kick)
W—Byrd 7 run (Williams pass from Byrd)
W—Burress 34 interception return (Byrd run)
N—J. Branham Jr. 28 run (Golden kick)
W—Safety, J. Branham Jr. tackled in end zone