BILOXI-- Justin Crawford took the handoff from Gardner Minshew, found a seam in the offensive line, stuck his foot in the ground and cut up field for a 58-yard touchdown on the first play of Sunday's Mississippi Bowl at Biloxi High.
From there on out it was all No. 1 Northwest as the Rangers blew out visiting No. 2 Rochester Community and Technical College (Minn.) 66-13.
With the win, Northwest (11-1) not only claimed its first NJCAA National Championship since 1992 and third overall, but completed a remarkable turnaround.
Two years ago, the Rangers went 11-1. Now they're national champions.
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"If you look at the score, it's a tribute to the MACJC. This is a really tough league," NWC coach Jack Wright said. "I have a lot of respect for our league. If you come through our league you're battle tested and can play anybody in the country. We proved that today."
Minshew, a former Brandon High standout and Troy signee, must enjoy visiting the Coast. A year ago he was named the Bernard Blackwell Classic MVP. Sunday, the freshman completed 23 of 30 passes for 421 yards with a career-high five touchdowns en route to another MVP honor.
"Fantastic player. There's no doubt Gardner is the glue that holds it together offensively," Wright said. "You saw today just some of the throws he makes, the decisions he makes and as fast as he makes them. He did get sacked once today, but he doesn't get touched much. That's just him making quick decisions."
With Louisville coach Bobby Petrino on hand, Crawford, who signed with the Cardinals out of high school, paced Northwest with his 15th career 100-yard effort. The shifty sophomore rushed for 144 yards with touchdown runs of 52 and 10 yards.
"I knew he probably would have a big day," Wright said. "We just had to have a good day on the offensive line. He's been hard to tackle and hard to contain for everybody and Rochester is no different."
Rochester, the Minnesota College Athletic Conference's champion, finished its season 11-1.
Yellow Jackets quarterback Nick Rooney entered the game having set the NJCAA single-season record with 55 touchdowns. He left Biloxi with 57 touchdowns, completing 26 of 48 for a season-low 223 yards. Rooney was under pressure for much for much of the game and was sacked four times.
"Going into the game, I knew our defense matched up well," Wright said. "If you look at the people who have moved the ball and scored on us, its been in the running game. We're really good against the pass. Our defensive backs play the pass really well and we've always been able to get pressure. I knew they would struggle (to pass)."
Home for the holidays
Former Harrison Central standout and Oklahoma corner back Tito Windham had a successful game shutting down half of the field. The Yellow Jackets didn't throw toward Windham's side until the third quarter and the former Red Rebel ended up with three tackles and a pass breakup.
"It's been like that the whole year," Windham said. "They don't try me until at the end of the game when they're desperate - but they're still not successful, as you can see."
Once the final horn sounded, Windham grabbed Northwest's team flag and rushed onto the field, waving it in the air. With a handful of friends and family in attendance, Windham said the championship had extra meaning.
"This meant a lot, to come home and play a game like this," he said. "It touched me."