High school football playoff preview: Northwest makes playoff return on the road as Bruins play Stephenson Saturday

Nov. 10—The first-round playoff opponent for Northwest Whitfield as the Bruins make a return to the state playoffs is a familiar one — at least for some seniors on this year's Bruins squad and the coaching staff.

Northwest opens the Class 4A playoffs Saturday night at 7:30 with a road trip to Clarkston to take on Stephenson. The game will be played at James R. Hallford Stadium.

Stephenson was the first-round playoff opponent for Northwest in 2020, a game won 28-24 by Northwest as the Bruins advanced to the second round of the 4A playoffs.

That was second-seeded Northwest against third-seeded Stephenson in a home game for Northwest.

This time, it's the fourth-seeded Bruins having to travel to play the Region 6-4A champion Jaguars.

Northwest (6-4) lost three in a row to the other three playoff teams in Region 7-4A to end the regular season after a 6-1 start. Stephenson comes in at 8-2 after winning its first region title since 2019. The Jaguars lost a non-region game against Class 5A Arabia Mountain and dropped its region opener 20-13 to Hapeville Charter, but finished with four consecutive wins to close out the regular season with the region championship.

Northwest, which returns to the postseason after a seven-year streak was interrupted last season, will hope for a better offensive start to have a chance to advance.

In each of the last three losses, Northwest has been held to a slow offensive start. Heritage got a 28-7 lead, though the Bruins battled back to fall 28-21. Region 7-4A champion Central-Carrollton built a 21-0 first-half lead while holding Northwest to just 33 offensive yards, and Cedartown led 33-0 before a Bruin touchdown made it a 33-7 final score.

Despite the slowdown in the last three games, Bruin quarterback Gavin Nuckolls has tossed for 2,180 yards and 20 touchdowns to go with six interceptions. Hudson Gray has 570 receiving yards and seven scores, while Isaiah Foster has 539 yards and four touchdowns.

Nuckolls also leads Northwest in rushing with 380 yards, though running back Cameron Collins isn't far behind with 358.

While the Bruins' strong suit is the passing game on offense, Stephenson makes its offense in the run game.

Senior running back Devin Ingram is fourth in the state, of all classifications, in rushing yards this season at 1,547. The Jaguar offense is averaging 34.3 points per game, a mark that Northwest only reached once in the last six games of the regular season, a 37-0 win over Southeast Whitfield. Meanwhile, the Bruin defense allowed right on that Stephenson average of 34.3 points per game in the last three games of the year.

Saturday's meeting is the second between the two schools on the football field, with the first being the Northwest win in the 2020 playoffs.

The winner of Saturday's game will play either East Forsyth or Luella in the second round.