TUNNEL HILL -- The first pass Northwest Whitfield High School freshman quarterback Owen Brooker threw Friday night sailed over his intended receiver's head for an incompletion.
Wet ball? First-game jitters? Just one that got away?
Whatever the case, it was also the first pass of the 15-year-old freshman's high school career.
Brooker, along with the Bruins (1-0), settled down after a scoreless first quarter for a 28-7 win over cross-county opponent Coahulla Creek (0-1) in a season-opener marred by 26 combined penalties and plenty of fumbles.
"I was nervous, but I felt confident because we had a good week of practice," said Brooker, who last year at this time was a 14-year-old playing football at New Hope Middle School. "It's exciting. I've been sitting up there in the bleachers and thinking about this for five years and it's finally happened. It's special."
A strong storm blew through Tunnel Hill hours before the game, leaving the field soggy. By halftime, the field conditions had deteriorated into a muddy mess. The storm also knocked the scoreboard out of operation, so an official kept the time on the field.
Coahulla Creek jumped out to the lead in the first quarter behind the strong running of tailback Austin Hernandez. After several short gains, Hernandez ripped off a 30-yard run to the Northwest 1-yard line. Two plays later, Hernandez went in for the touchdown. The extra point staked the Colts to a 7-0 lead.
In response, Northwest rattled of 21 unanswered points in the second quarter. The first score came on Gavin Ellis' 2-yard run, followed by a 69-yard touchdown run by Chase Gentry. The third score of the second quarter was Brooker's first career touchdown pass, where he found do-it-all player Matt Redmond on a 24-yard catch and run. Brooker finished the game 10-for-20 for 71 yards and an interception.
While the Coahulla Creek defense pitched a shutout in the first quarter, Northwest's two big scoring plays before halftime "took a lot of wind out of our sail," Colts coach Caleb Bagley said, giving the Bruins a 21-7 halftime lead. Bagley, while disappointed in the loss, was pleased that his team refused to give up.
"I'm happy to see their fight," Bagley said. "It could have gotten ugly and we didn't really let that happen, so that was good to see. It's a long season. It's a rivalry game. We tried to relay that to the kids. It's not a region game, it was a great game and it was our most important game because it was our next game. So now we've got to fix some things and get ready for Southeast in a couple of weeks."
Both teams struggled to move the ball in the second half as field conditions worsened. Northwest running back Bryce Mantooth had the Bruins' fourth and final touchdown on a 4-yard run.
Coahulla Creek played much of the game without their top two running backs. Hernandez, who finished with 96 yards on 13 carries, was in and out of the game with cramps while Titus Underwood re-aggravated an ankle injury.
Next Friday, Northwest travels south to take on Dalton in an intra-county rivalry game while Coahulla Creek has a bye before facing Southeast Whitfield at home on Sept. 6.