HIGH SCHOOLS

Clash of Dade football powers Central and Booker T. has national impact

 

Booker T. and Central meet Friday night in what is believed to be the first meeting between teams from the same county ranked 1 and 2 in multiple national polls.

a1fernandez@MiamiHerald.com

South Florida has had huge high school football games in the past.

Coral Gables and Miami High nearly filled the Orange Bowl in the late 1960s.

Miami Northwestern and Miami Jackson did the same in their epic Soul Bowl battles in the late 1990s.

A few others have played on national TV in recent years.

But one of the nation’s most notable hotbeds for high school football talent has never had two teams ranked No. 1 nationally face each other.

Two of Miami-Dade County’s powerhouses – Miami Booker T. Washington and Miami Central – meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Traz Powell Stadium in what is believed to be the first meeting between teams from the same county ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in multiple national polls.

“It’s real special and it says a lot about South Florida being recognized nationally,” Booker T. Washington coach Tim “Ice” Harris said. “Hopefully both of these teams can show the nation that they can perform at this level consistently and show the teaching and the development of student-athletes that’s going on in South Florida.”

The game is the first clash between teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 since 2009 when Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas defeated South Carolina’s Byrnes High 42-34.

It is the first such game involving a Dade team since Miami Northwestern defeated Texas powerhouse Southlake Carroll in 2007 in Dallas. The Bulls went on to become national champions that season as well.

In 2001, California powerhouses Concord De La Salle and Long Beach Poly met when ranked the top two teams in the country.

But a case of two teams within the same county playing for a national title is believed to be a first in the modern era of national high school football rankings.

But unlike most games in this era of ESPN and other networks broadcasting high-profile matchups, the game will not be televised. It is expected to draw a capacity crowd of 7,500.

“In nearly a decade of being involved with Rivals.com and covering high school football, I can remember a handful of out-of-state games that generated a lot of buzz nationally,” said Rivals.com national writer Dallas Jackson, who said this will be the first 1 vs. 2 game in the six-year history of the RivalsHigh100 poll. “None were even as high profile as state finals … let alone a Week 2 clash. I think this one is topping the charts in terms of excitement and national awareness. People are legitimately upset that it isn’t a nationally televised game.”

Booker T. Washington (1-0), ranked No. 1 by USA Today, got plenty of national exposure two weeks ago when it routed then No. 6-ranked Norcross (Ga.), 55-0 in a game ESPN televised.

The Tornadoes, who have won two state championships (2007 and 2012) since their high school reopened in 1999, enter Friday’s game ranked either No. 1 or 2 in all four major polls.

Central (1-0) began the season ranked No. 1 by Rivals.com and surged to No. 1 in PrepNation.com’s poll following a 42-20 victory against Plantation American Heritage, one of Broward County’s best, last weekend.

The Rockets have won two state championships in the past three seasons and have not lost to another Dade team since 2008. Central beat Booker T. last season in the second week of the season at Sun Life Stadium, 37-26, after rallying from a 19-3 deficit at halftime.

The game will feature more than 35 combined players being recruited by Football Subdivision (Division I) schools.

“I feel it’s as big as the University of Miami-University of Florida game [Saturday],” Central senior running back Dalvin Cook, a University of Florida commitment, said. “How me and my team take it, we just go out here and work. We don’t worry about the hype. I feel it’s very intense. I feel this is going to be for the national title right here. Everybody is going to be there. I feel it’s going to be a sellout game.”

Harris and Central coach Roland Smith were both part of the Northwestern coaching staff in 1998 when two Northwestern-Jackson Soul Bowl games drew more than 81,000 fans combined to the Orange Bowl.

“I was coaching defensive backs and Coach Ice was the offensive coordinator at the time,” Smith said. “Antonio Bryant had the big catch and I remember everybody walking out the stadium. That was a game of the ages right there.

“There was more riding on the line in that one even though there is a lot riding on the line [in this one]. Even though we still have a chance to win state championships, both teams’ ultimate goals are to win a national championship. We’re both in each other’s way. We’re both looking forward to this game.”

Although it is only the second game of the season for both teams, many believe the winner is unlikely to lose the nation’s top ranking the rest of the season.

Central is two weeks away from a trip to New Jersey to play Don Bosco Prep, a 14-time state champion and winners of the national championship in 2009 and 2011. Don Bosco Prep traveled to Fort Lauderdale last season and beat St. Thomas Aquinas. The Rockets also must play defending Class 3A state champion Fort Lauderdale University School as well as a tough district schedule.

Booker T. Washington, led by senior quarterback and FSU-recruit Treon Harris, still has to play one more nationally-televised game in Las Vegas Oct. 4 against Bishop Gorman High. The Tornadoes also play a few more local rivals including Northwestern and could face University School in the playoffs.

Neither is taking what lies

--------------- ---------------

beyond Friday’s game for

granted. Following Aquinas’

victory against Byrnes in

2009, the Raiders were up

set in the state semifinals.

Both teams understand

the importance of a victory

Friday.

“I think the kids have been through it for the past two years and they’re showing the ability to lead and the knowledge of what needs to be done,” Harris said. “Both teams have coaches that have worked together in the past and have great respect for each other.

“Our kids have great character and discipline and sportsmanship. I hope we can show that having two teams like this in Dade County isn’t a one-year thing. Hopefully, other teams will join in and we’ll continue to have teams battling for a national title and keep this thing going in South Florida.”

Miami Herald sportswriter Manny Navarro contributed to this report.

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