A measure of mettle

Published 1:50 am Saturday, November 24, 2012

Northview running back La’Mikal Kyles was a huge impact player in the Chiefs’ overtime, second-round playoff win over the Freeport Bulldogs Friday night in Bratt.

For the third year in a row, the Northview Chiefs are one win away from the state championship game.

The Chiefs will advance to the third round of the Florida High School Athletic Association playoffs after knocking off the Freeport Bulldogs in a 34-28 overtime win Friday night in Bratt.

In a rematch of a regular season game the Chiefs won 42-0 against Freeport, the Bulldogs gave NHS all they could handle through four tough regulation quarters and beyond, before ultimately falling to the Chiefs for the second time this year.

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Northview Head Coach Sid Wheatley said his team was expecting a different, more improved Bulldog squad than what they saw earlier this year.

“I can’t tell you how well coached and how hard those kids played from Freeport,” Wheatley said after the game. “We were able to jump out so quickly on them in the first game. It was 21-0 maybe eight minutes into the game. But that was not indicative of the way Freeport normally plays us. I think they really carried a chip in on their shoulders, and I told our guys ‘you have really ended their season two years in a row, and there is nothing they would love more than to come over here and do that to you.’”

As it turned out, that would not be the case, despite the Bulldogs’ best efforts.

Freeport gave the Chiefs a taste of their own fast-paced medicine Friday night, jumping out to a quick, 14-point first quarter lead after a duo of red zone fumbles from NHS quarterback Kevin Vaughn. But NHS running back La’Mikal Kyles helped the Chiefs return to the game in the second quarter with a rushing score and Neino Robinson tied things up at 14 all with a punt return for a touchdown to send the rematch into the locker room at half time tied up at 14.

Despite a first possession in the second half, the Bulldogs could not reproduce their fast first half start. After taking over possession, the Chiefs looked to jump ahead but a quick drive, capped off by a five-yard touchdown run from Neiko Johnson would ultimately be called back after an NHS penalty. Looking to redeem himself after a poor first half, Vaughn found Kyles through the air in the corner of the end zone to give the Chiefs a 21-14 lead with only 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

But Freeport would also find offensive life late in the game to tie things up at 21 all after a 42-yard touchdown reception with 9:18 remaining in regulation. The Bulldogs gained even more momentum with their second interception of Vaughn late in the fourth quarter to give them a first and ten start at Northview’s 28-yard line. With 5:42 to play Freeport jumped ahead after an 18-yard touchdown run, to lead 28-21.

After establishing great field position near field following a poor Freeport kickoff, the Chiefs were back in business late in the fourth quarter. After a ten-yard hookup through the air from Vaughn to Kyles, Northviews quarterback was once again working to redeem his mistakes, this time with a run to the Freeport eight-yard line. Vaughn capped off the come-from-behind drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to receiver Cameron Newsom to tie things up once again at 28-28.

Entering overtime, the Chiefs deferred to the second possession after winning the coin toss and the NHS defense reaffirmed their coaches belief in them with a quick four-and-out series. On the ensuing offensive drive, the offense showed their determination, scoring on two quick runs from Kyles and sending home the Freeport Bulldogs with a loss for the second time this season.

“I just think we kind of wavered there for a little while,” Wheatley said. “But they’ve been in games like this. They are kind of battle tested. They felt like they could get it done tonight and they did.”

Wheatley said much of his team’s offensive success was due in part to his quarterback’s ability to bounce back from adversity.

“I thought Kevin Vaughn ran the ball well in the second half,” Wheatley said. “He had a couple of big runs for us. La’Mikal Kyles ran well and the offensive line got it done for us when they had to. But Kevin bounced back when he had to. He could of kind of gone into his shell. He didn’t do that. He came back and made plays for us and helped us win the game.”

Vaughn himself said he was appreciative of his teammates’ and coaches’ help in the victory.

“Support from everybody,” Vaughn said of his ability to keep the game alive. “They told me if I keep my head up, we’ll push through this and we did. All I had to do was keep my head up and make plays when it mattered.”

Vaughn said his team will have to play better in the third round of the FHSAA playoffs, a place they have ended their last two seasons.

“It’s kind of been our Achilles heel,” he said. “A difference we’re going to have to make is not turning the ball over. That’s not going to win a state championship. We just have to hold onto the ball. If our defense plays like they did in the second half, it won’t be hard.”

The Chiefs will look to end their third-round woes this year when they take on Liberty County next week on the road in Bristol, Fla. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.