Sometimes it’s just a matter of who has the most gifted players on the field.
On Friday night, Miami Central’s football team once again had the good fortune of having junior running back Dalvin Cook on its team.
Cook’s three highlight-worthy touchdown runs and 123 yards on 10 carries helped the Rockets break open a close game and beat longtime rival Northwestern 34-7 in a Region 4-6A semifinal at Traz Powell Stadium.
Central (9-2) will travel to play Melbourne Palm Bay next Friday in the regional final. Central beat Palm Bay 17-7 last season in the same round at Traz Powell Stadium.
“Our young guys came to compete,” Central coach Telly Lockette said. “They really grew up [Friday night], and I can’t tell you how proud I am of them. Cook and [Joseph] Yearby are just special, and I feel blessed to have kids like that.”
The Rockets completed a two-game season sweep of Northwestern (9-3), which returned to the playoffs a season after having a 20-year streak of qualifying for the postseason snapped.
Because of escalating tensions between the players late in the game, including a couple of unsportsmanlike penalties, Lockette chose not to have his team line up and shake hands with Northwestern, as is customary following games.
Central won its sixth consecutive game against Northwestern and eliminated the Bulls from the playoffs for the third time in the past four seasons.
“I felt both teams competed, but there was some stuff going on and some bad blood, so I just didn’t want anything to escalate,” Lockette said. “That’s a hell of a ball club over there, but I just didn’t want anything to happen.”
Thanks to a solid defensive effort that held Central to minus-23 yards rushing in a scoreless first quarter, Northwestern found itself in a dogfight with Central for the second time this season.
But once again, turnovers doomed the Bulls’ chances for an upset.
Da’Wan Hunte recovered a muffed punt by Northwestern’s Joseph Robinson that led to Central’s first score, a 28-yard field goal by Emilio Nadelman. Hunte later had an interception.
Deatrick Nichols had a fourth-quarter interception that set up Central’s final touchdown after a 57-yard return to the Bulls’ 20-yard line.
“This team did a great job despite it all, and we didn’t quit,” Northwestern coach Stephen Field said. “In the second half we had some energy, but a couple of big plays went their way and it got out of hand.”
Four turnovers helped Central take a 10-point, second-quarter lead and later pull away despite Northwestern cutting the deficit to three before halftime.
Leading 10-7 in the third quarter, Cook used his speed and ability to make defenders miss to find the end zone from 30 yards away.
After Nadelman converted the second of his two field goals to give Central a 20-7 lead, Cook again scored on a 24-yard run where his speed and elusiveness proved too much for the Bulls defense.
Yearby also had a strong second half in the Central backfield, finishing with 87 yards on 17 carries and a late touchdown.
Cook also gave the Rockets a boost on special teams, blocking a long field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter.