9. NORTHWESTERN (6-1) VS. 3. CENTRAL (4-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sun Life Stadium
The venue and the sense of urgency on both sides has once again made this one of the premier matchups of the season.
Central picked up its biggest win of the season at Sun Life Stadium when it rallied from a 16-point, second-half deficit to beat Booker T. Washington on Sept. 8.
Central has lost only to national No. 1 Bradenton Manatee on the road since then, and their only defeats have come to teams that have been ranked No. 1 nationally at the time.
A win against Northwestern is more important because with a victory the Rockets can wrap up the District 16-6A title and possibly deny their Liberty City rivals a trip to the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
The Bulls need either a victory here or a loss by Carol City on Thursday against Homestead to keep their playoff hopes alive. A victory maintains their chances of securing the district title. Northwestern would also like to break Central’s four-game winning streak in the series.
Northwestern is in this predicament because of its lone loss of the season a month ago against Carol City. Since then, Northwestern coach Stephen Field’s team has been playing with a renewed focus and learning how to close out games behind its defense and talented running back Darius Tice delivering the knockout.
Wild cards in determining the outcome of this game could be the play of Joseph Robinson and Artie Burns for the Bulls. Look for Central’s improving offensive line to match up well with Northwestern’s defensive front.
That will either allow or deny Central’s playmakers — Joe Yearby and Dalvin Cook — to break some huge runs. Special teams is an area where the Bulls are improving also with kicker Ruben Piraquve. But Emilio Nadelman is one of the country’s best and has always come through for the Rockets with the game on the line.
Andre’s pick: Central 20, Northwestern 17.
15. HOMESTEAD (5-2) VS. 8. CAROL CITY (6-2), 7 p.m. Thursday, Traz
The playoff importance of the big game Friday will be determined by the big game Thursday.
A Carol City victory would secure either a playoff berth if Central also beats Northwestern or at least a potential tiebreaker if the Bulls win Friday. A Homestead win puts the Broncos in position to make the postseason with a matchup with Northwestern the following week.
Quarterback Akeem Jones has personified Carol City’s will this year, and he did it again with four touchdown passes against the Rockets. Homestead’s own talented weapons such as Maurice Alexander, Ermon Lane and Johnnie Hankins are also capable of lighting up the scoreboard.
Andre’s pick: Carol City 27, Homestead 20.
12. SOUTH DADE (7-1) VS. SOUTHRIDGE (3-4), 7:30 p.m. Friday, TBA
Time to find out if Southridge’s recent 31-0 victory against Norland is a sign the Spartans are finally playing like a state title contender. Jamal Adjamah continues to run the ball well and the Spartans’ defense has allowed more than 14 points in a game only twice in seven games.
South Dade, however, has been the most consistent team in District 16-8A. Although it hasn’t put up too many flashy statistics, the Bucs have run well, passed well, defended very well, and find themselves a win away from capturing the district for the second time in three years.
Andre’s pick: South Dade 20, Southridge 19.