TUNNEL HILL -- For much of the night, the big plays Northwest Whitfield High School made came through the air.
The Bruins once led by 20 over Central of Carrollton, but with 6:51 left in the fourth quarter and a lead that had dwindled to six, the Bruins needed to turn to the ground to protect it.
An 11-play drive, all on the ground, took Northwest from their 17 to the Central 29, forced the Lions to burn their two timeouts and ran out the clock on Northwest's 33-27 win.
"We're a throwing team. I think everybody knows that," Northwest head coach Josh Robinson said. "But, for us to line up with six and a half minutes left and not give them the ball back is pretty good."
"It was a fight, but we had the composure there at the end," Northwest quarterback Owen Brooker said.
Northwest Whitfield (3-2, 1-0 Region 7-4A) combined stifling defense with a dynamic offensive attack to gain a 27-7 lead over Central of Carrollton (3-3, 0-1 Region 7-4A) at half in the Region 7-4A opener for both teams.
A quick-strike offense led Northwest down the field on their first drive -- thanks to three passes of more than 10 yards from Brooker -- and Ray Morrison carried in a reverse from two yards out to get the Bruins on the board less than three minutes in.
After a few stalled drives from both teams, Cameron Collins rushed in for a 30-yard score as the buzzer sounded on the end of the first quarter, putting Northwest up 13-0 after a blocked extra point.
Collins provided a strong change of pace for Northwest when the Bruins went to the ground. He rushed for 91 yards on 24 carries.
In the second, Central finally got its first first down of the night -- a screen pass to Vicari Swain that went 62 yards for a touchdown.
Aside from that touchdown play, Northwest's defense didn't allow much of the Central offense before half. The Lions accounted for 59 yards of offense outside of the Swain reception.
"We played spectacularly in the first half, minus that one play," Robinson said. "And we knew they were going to get some, 4 (Swain) is one of the best players in this league."
Northwest's offense answered the lone Lion breakout play with another drive set up by a few Brooker passes. Jayden Santiago rumbled 15 yards down to the Central one, then burst in for a score on the next play.
Braxton Floyd picked off Central's Devan Powell and returned the ball 79 yards for a would-be touchdown, but a holding penalty negated the return.
That didn't seem to matter much to Brooker and the Bruins. The junior quarterback hit Morrison in stride for a 51-yard touchdown a few plays later, and Northwest led 27-7.
Brooker was 18-for-25 for 215 yards.
After halftime, Central didn't need long to break free of the Bruin lockdown that had held for most of the first half.
The Lions started turning more toward their passing game -- a 62-yarder was just one of four completions in the first half -- to get around the Bruin defense. A 32-yard pass play set up Cameron Bolton to run in from 12 to make the score 27-14.
"We were able to limit them, but then we kind of made it closer than it should have been. We played spectacular versus the run," Robinson said. "We forced them to do something they don't really want to do in throwing the ball, but they were able to make some plays."
Brooker led the Bruins back down the field again, punching it in from the three to put Northwest up 33-14.
The teams exchanged turnovers on consecutive plays, with an interception from Northwest's Domonique Smith that was negated by a fumble that the Lions pounced on.
Powell reached the end zone a few plays later to cut the score to 33-21 just before the end of the third.
Bolton ran in for his second score of the night to make it 33-27 with 6:51 to go, but Northwest's final drive sealed it. Collins and Brooker alternated a few carries, but it was Brooker with the ball for the final six snaps, as he pushed through a pile for a first down to all but ice the game. Brooker tallied 53 rushing yards on 16 carries.
"We're growing," Brooker said. "We had a couple of games where we didn't execute at the end, but we were able to do it tonight."
Northwest lost a game in triple overtime to start the season against Coahulla Creek, and the Bruins' other loss was a 31-30 defeat by North Murray.
Northwest is in for another Region 7-4A test Friday as the Bruins travel to Cedartown to play the defending region champions at 7:30 p.m.