Pretend you are a Miami Central football player for a second.
You’re walking off the field at Traz Powell Stadium Friday night.
You start thinking about your next game … and then it hits you … there is no next game.
Your season is over in mid-October.
That’s a harsh reality that the Rockets might face unless they find away to beat longtime rival Northwestern once again in their unusually early regular-season finale this weekend.
5. NORTHWESTERN (5-1) VS. 6. CENTRAL (6-1), FRIDAY, TRAZ POWELL
The balance of power between longtime rivals Central and Northwestern shifted at the start of this decade when the Rockets finally got over their long history of losing big games to the Bulls.
Even before star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater departed to the University of Louisville and eventually the NFL, his Bulls had begun losing to the Rockets during a streak that has reached nine consecutive defeats in the series since 2009.
The gap between the teams is narrowing and could reach the tipping point Friday in what promises to be one of the best matchups in the series in recent memory.
Because of a scheduling quirk, this game is it for Central as far as the regular season.
The Rockets were scheduled to play nine games this season, and lost another game when Hialeah-Miami Lakes moved from its District 16-6A to 8-4A.
This created a situation where conceivably Central would not have to play a game for a stretch of four weeks until the start of the playoffs.
Thanks to its loss to Carol City, the Rockets would fall to 1-2 in district if they lose, and leave them unable to win the district if Carol City beats Norland on Thursday.
Although not mathematically eliminated, Central would be left rooting for Norland and Carol City to beat Northwestern and hope that creates a three-way tiebreaker for the second playoff spot in the district.
What better time than now for Northwestern to snap its losing streak to Central and put the Rockets’ season on life support?
The Bulls have the potential to do it if they can limit mistakes and their offense continues to thrive behind county-leading rusher Kai Henry and quarterback Tutu Atwell.
But this game will only be won by the Bulls if their defense rises to the occasion. That unit has been strong most of the season but experienced some lapses against potent offensive teams such as American Heritage and Booker T. Washington.
Central has a deep and talented running game, and receivers such as Carmoni Green and Jernard Phillips are tough to cover.
The edge in experience overall still goes to Central — a battle-tested group that has reached the state finals each of the past six seasons.
And the Rockets have proved themselves time and time again when their backs are believed to be against the wall.
Andre’s pick: Central 27, Northwestern 24.
7. CARDINAL GIBBONS (5-0) AT 1. AMERICAN HERITAGE (6-0) 7:30, FRIDAY
This rivalry finally had a close game last season with Heritage edging Gibbons by a touchdown.
With Gibbons becoming one of the most improved teams in South Florida this season, expect the Chiefs to battle the host Patriots once again.
The Chiefs have displayed a lot of offensive firepower over the first half of the season and put themselves in striking distance of the District 16-5A championship in a season in which many expected them to have a hard time contending.
But if Gibbons is to end its long losing skid against Heritage, its defense will have to slow down a versatile Heritage offense.
The Patriots’ own defense is full of playmakers who can turn a game in its favor quickly as it has shown during its undefeated run so far this season. Heritage’s brutal schedule has prepared it for a strong stretch run and games like this.
Andre’s pick: American Heritage 35, Cardinal Gibbons 24.