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As time expired on the Northridge High School scoreboard Friday night, numerous Jaguars players walked onto the field with their arms raised – each with four fingers up on one hand and the other closed into a zero.

They had just finished off a 40-6 win over Class 6A, Region 4 opponent Bessemer City, improving to 4-0 for the first time since 2011.

For Jaguars coach Mike Vickery, his players scoring four of their six touchdowns after halftime is a sign of more mental toughness after their 1-9 record a season ago.

“This year we’ve really challenged our guys to be a second-half football team and to do a better job of finishing games,” Vickery said. “We really want to focus on finishing the games the right way and finishing people off when we have the opportunity to do it.”

Northridge scored touchdowns on its first two drives: a 6-yard run off a direct snap by receiver Christopher “C.J.” Jack and a 48-yard heave from sophomore quarterback Kollyn Shelnutt to junior receiver Cory White.

Bessemer City responded with a 19-play, 88-yard drive that lasted more than 9 minutes, but it stalled in the red zone and ended with a turnover on downs. The Purple Tigers drove into Jaguars territory again on their next possession, but back-to-back incomplete passes ended the half.

Quarterback Roy Williams was the centerpiece of Bessemer City’s offense in the first half, accounting for 133 of his team’s 158 yards.

“I wonder what they’re gonna do,” one Northridge player on the sideline said sarcastically before a play. “I bet they give it to No. 1 (Williams).”

The Jaguars adjusted after halftime, though, allowing just one first down on Bessemer City’s first five drives of the second half. Four of those drives ended in turnovers: senior Zach Bates and freshman T.J. Banks intercepted Williams, and two of his backward passes were dropped and recovered by Northridge.

Williams accounted for 82 yards on Bessemer City’s final possession, ending Northridge’s hopes of a shutout with a touchdown inside the final two minutes.

“We had to stay in front of him,” Vickery said. “Their best play for most of the game was [for him] to drop back and let him do some things with his feet. You try to limit the big plays, and that’s what we’ve been able to do defensively that we haven’t done the last couple years.”

One of Williams’ backward passes was bobbled by several Jaguars players before senior linebacker Will Bryant finally scooped it up in the end zone. It was the first touchdown of his career, and it put Northridge ahead 40-0 late in the fourth quarter.

“It was amazing. I loved it. … You just yell, ‘Ball down!’ and everybody goes to get it,” Bryant said. “If it’s not me, it’s gonna be somebody else.”

Shelnutt finished the game 6 of 9 for 141 yards and two interceptions. Two of his three incompletions were drops.

Northridge made a quarterback change in the third quarter, briefly inserting sophomore Taylor Halperin in place of Shelnutt. Halperin scampered for a 29-yard rushing touchdown to put Northridge up 20-0. Jack added a second touchdown on a direct snap two minutes later, and a 17-yard pass from Shelnutt to junior London Merriweather was the Jaguars’ final offensive score.

Friday’s win was Northridge’s first win over Bessemer City since 2015. The Jaguars defeated Paul Bryant last week, so they have now won back-to-back games against region opponents that made the playoffs last season.

Next week Northridge (4-0 overall, 2-0 in the region) plays at Region 4 opponent Brookwood (0-4, 0-2), which has been without head coach Mike Bramblett and several players for the last two weeks due to quarantine. Bessemer City plays at McAdory, which defeated Paul Bryant 18-8 on Friday.

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