Although hype is already growing for Central’s football game against Northwestern next week at Sun Life Stadium, the Rockets knew they faced an even more important challenge Thursday night.
Finding themselves in a shootout with a much-improved Carol City squad, and first-place in District 16-6A on the line, the Rockets once again turned to its playmakers to pull out the victory.
A combined 342 yards and five touchdowns rushing from Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby, and a timely interception return for a touchdown by Tavius Brown Jr. helped Central get past Carol City 49-32 at Traz Powell Stadium.
Central (4-2, 2-0 District 16-6A) moved into sole possession of first place in the district with the victory, and set itself up to potentially clinch the district title next week.
If Northwestern (5-1, 0-1) beats Belen (2-4, 0-2) on Saturday and Carol City beats Homestead (5-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Central can clinch the district by beating Northwestern next Friday. Carol City (6-2, 2-1), at that point, can clinch a playoff berth should it beat Homestead.
“Make no mistake about it, Carol City is a great football team, and I knew coach [Harold] Barnwell would get this thing going eventually,” Central coach Telly Lockette said. “It’s all about making adjustments in games, and they did that before the half so we had to do the same and fight back.”
Cook finished with 172 yards on 12 carries, ran for three touchdowns, and returned a kickoff 72 yards in the fourth quarter. Yearby finished with 170 yards on 24 carries and scored twice.
Central never trailed Carol City, but it was unable to secure the game until the final seven minutes as senior quarterback Akeem Jones kept bringing the Chiefs back.
Jones completed 22 of 46 passes for 346 yards and threw four touchdown passes (each to a different receiver).
But his lone interception allowed Central to put the game away.
With Central leading 35-32, Carol City gained possession at its own 16. Brown Jr., however, anticipated a Jones pass to the far sideline and returned the interception 27 yards for a touchdown with 7:12 remaining.
After a loss on downs, Cook broke for a 44-yard touchdown run to really put the game out of reach with 3:10 remaining.
Cook, Yearby and Brown Jr. each played offense and defense — an ongoing trend for Central as it continues to maximize its most talented athletes in every phase of the game.
“I knew my team needed a big-time play at that moment,” Cook said. “I was just looking to give my team a spark.”
Added Yearby: “We did a lot of conditioning running extra 30 minutes in practice,” Yearby said. “Our coaches just tell us to keep fighting on every play.”
Carol City fell behind 21-0 early in the second quarter, but fought back behind Jones’ leadership. His 13-yard touchdown pass to William French began a string of 18 unanswered points before halftime. French led all Carol City receivers with 11 catches for 150 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
Two special teams miscues by Central contributed to Carol City keeping it close.
A high snap over punter Emilio Nadelman in the second quarter led to a safety. Late in the game, Carol City’s Laroy James blocked a Nadelman punt and Roy Edwards recovered it leading to a Jones 5-yard touchdown pass to Gregory Conde on the ensuing drive.
• Killian 37, Coral Reef 22: The Cougars, led by three players with at least 100 rushing yards each, ran circles around their District 16-8A rival Barracudas (3-4, 0-2) in front of 250 fans at Southridge Field.
The Cougars (6-1, 2-1) combined for 329 rushing yards — Jaquan Johnson (131 yards), Harry Jones (109 yards) and Miguel Andrillon (100 yards).
The Cougars were spurred by a 22-yard reception by sophomore Anthony Olivencia from junior quarterback Nigel Dillard. Dillard finished with 69-yards on 4 of 10 passing.
“Nigel stepped up,” Killian coach Cory Johnson said. “He was clutch.”
Strong safety Johnson also added to the first-quarter score on a 7-yard scamper for a touchdown, his first of three.