Miami high school football playoffs begin tonight with a juicy rematch between Northwestern and Columbus. The Explorers (10-0) routed the Bulls 29-8 earlier in the season, knocking out Northwestern's star quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, with a knee injury.
Bridgewater made a triumphant return to action last week against Jackson, and shouldn't need any extra motivation tonight.
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But this year's Bulls team is a shadow of the powerhouse that went undefeated and won a national championship in 2007. Northwestern has already lost twice this season -- to Columbus and arch-rivals Miami Central -- and narrowly won several others, often thanks to the individual brilliance of UM-bound Bridgewater.
Northwestern has also been distracted by off-the-field problems: a handful of key starters were suspended after a brawl during a game against Hialeah in September. And after a narrow win over Edison on Oct. 30, Northwestern principal Charles Hankerson fired head coach Billy Rolle only to reinstate him days later. After the reversal, Hankerson himself stepped down only to return to his job until the end of the school year.
The good news? Northwestern is 3-0 against Columbus in the playoffs.
The winner of tonight's game -- 7 p.m. at Tropical Stadium -- will likely face-off against Central next weekend. The Rockets are heavily favored to beat Miami High on Friday night.