James Cook is the No. 1 recruit in Miami-Dade County and one of the best running backs in the nation.
But these days he shares the load in a loaded Rockets backfield. Thursday night, Cook, the younger brother of former Florida State star Dalvin Cook, carried it just once through the first two and a half quarters against crosstown rival Booker T. Washington.
Then, when it mattered most, coach Roland Smith turned to him to help decide the game. Cook’s 21-yard touchdown run with 10:52 to play ultimately turned out to be the difference in a 19-17 Rockets win at Traz Powell Stadium.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team win,” said Cook, who finished with seven carries for 51 yards and two catches for 25 yards in the win. “It’s going to be those younger guys’ turn next year. Just let them get the feeling, see how it is to get back there in a game like this and let them do them.”
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Cook, who was wearing a University of Georgia bookbag after the game on his shoulders, said the Bulldogs and FSU, where he was committed to before, are the two teams at the top of his college list to sign him. He plans to graduate early and arrive on campus for the start of spring ball.
Cook’s fumble at the BTW 15 with under five minutes to play opened the door for the Tornadoes (1-1) to try and steal the game late. But after junior quarterback Daniel Richardson led BTW down the field and into the red zone with under a minute to play, a late sack by Tatum Bethune pushed the Tornadoes back.
Junior Cristian Roldán then missed a 37-yard field goal with 42 seconds to play to seal the win for the Rockets, who travel next week to Las Vegas to play Bishop Gorman in a battle of nationally ranked teams.
Central and Booker T. have won five state titles each since 2007, but the Rockets have owned the head-to-head series over the stretch winning seven of the last 10 battles. The teams have faced each other annually since 2008.
▪ Central took a 6-0 lead when quarterback Tijuane Morton connected with senior receiver Terrell Perriman on a 13-yard touchdown on the Rockets’ first possession of the game. Central, though, went three-and-out on its next three drives and had what would have been a 59-yard touchdown pass go right through the hands of receiver Ki’Dron Moore-Shuler.
▪ Booker T. took the lead on a 66-yard strike from Daniel Richardson to Zahir Turner late in the first quarter and extended the lead to 10-6 on an Andres Borregales 19-yard field goal with 6:38 left in the half. But like the Rockets, the Tornadoes also dropped a would-be touchdown pass late in the first half. Central retook the lead on a 41-yard touchdown run by sophomore Kijon Owens with 5:44 left in the half.
▪ Booker T. blocked a punt and scored midway through the third quarter to take a 16-12 lead. But the play was negated by an illegal participation penalty. Six plays later, Cook scored on a 21-yard run to put Central up two scores.
▪ Richardson completed 23 of his 47 pass attempts for 229 yards and a touchdown and also ran 13 times for 88 yards in the loss.
▪ Central was flagged 15 times for 150 yards. Booker T. was penalized 17 times for 125 yards.
CENTRAL-BOOKER T. RIVALRY
2017: Central won 19-17
2016: Central won 42-14
2015: Central won 35-28
2014: BTW won 21-20
2013: BTW won 28-17
2012: Central won 37-26
2011: Central won 29-26
2010: Central won 17-0
2009: Central won 18-12
2008: BTW won 44-39