MELBOURNE -- Having been in a tough battle with them a year ago, some thought that the Miami Central Rockets might just have a tough game on their hands when they traveled three hours north to take on the Palm Bay Pirates on Friday night.
So much for what “some thought.”
The Rockets jumped all over the Pirates with two touchdowns in the first four minutes of the game and never looked back, cruising to a 38-2 victory in a Class 6A Region 4 final at Pirates Stadium and now advance to their fourth consecutive state semifinal.
Central (10-2), which knocked off Palm Bay 17-7 at Traz Powell Stadium last year in the same round, will travel west across Alligator Alley next week to take on and undefeated Naples team, which blew out Daytona Beach Mainland 41-14, in a state semifinal.
“We really stuttered and sputtered last year when they came down to play us in Miami so we wanted to really get off to a fast start tonight, get up on them quick and try and take the crowd out of the game,” said Central head coach Telly Lockette. “We wanted to come out, establish the run and put ourselves in a good position to succeed and we really did the job tonight.”
“The quick start was big,” said running back Joseph Yearby, who finished his abbreviated night early in the third quarter with 123 yards on 11 carries and one touchdown. “We didn’t do that against them last year and wound up in a really close game. We preach start fast and finish strong and we did that out there tonight.”
After their defense got a quick three-and-out to start the game, the Rockets offense took their opening drive and drove 53 yards in six plays, Dalvin Cook going over from 2 yards out to make it 7-0- with 8:25 left in the first.
On Palm Bay’s second play of the next drive, quarterback Brian Fallace severely underthrew his intended receiver and safety Deatrick Nichols picked it off and bolted 38 yards down the far sideline for the touchdown and it was 14-0.
After Yearby scored from 3 yards out midway through the second quarter to make it 21-0, the Rockets made their only mistake of the night on a bizarre play.
Fielding a punt at his own 15, Cook and even the opponents thought he had hit the ground and was tackled.
But no whistle blew and Cook took off backward to try and wheel around Pirate players but stumbled and fell in his own end zone resulting in a safety.
Placekicker Emilio Nadelman, a South Florida commit, enjoyed his own highlight on this night as well when he lined up for a 54-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
Just what kind of night it was for the Rockets and the Pirates became apparent when his kick hit the cross bar, bounced straight up and barely fell over the bar to make it 24-2 at the half.
When Central quarterback Keith Reed fumbled at midfield on the third play of the second half and the Pirates recovered, Palm Bay (8-5) had a little life.
But that was snuffed out four plays later when a fake punt on fourth-and-three came up inches short.
On the very next play, Central running back Malik Adams bolted up the middle and then outside for a 58 yard touchdown to end the issue.