Just one day after he ended any suspense and committed to take his football talents to the University of Georgia, Miami Central running back — or should we say in this case — defensive back James Cook, had one heck of an encore performance on Friday night.
With his Rockets team struggling all night long and trailing Carol City by six points going into the fourth quarter, Cook virtually put his entire team on his back and showed them the way to a come-from-behind 26-13 victory over the defending Class 6A state champion Chiefs at Traz Powell Stadium.
Not once, not twice, but three times Cook picked off Carol City quarterback Marlon Smith in the fourth quarter returning two for touchdowns. Oh yeah, and on the one he didn’t return for a score? He set his team up deep in Chiefs territory setting up the go-ahead touchdown with 4:36 — scored by him when he bolted nine yards around the left side from the wildcat formation.
“He reminds me so much of his brother (former Florida State and now Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin) and played a game like his brother would have done tonight,” said Central coach Roland Smith. “We think he’s the best in the state, one of the best in the nation and should be Player of the Year. To make an impact on both sides of the ball the way he did was amazing and we really needed it tonight for sure.”
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With the Chiefs about to go in and extend their 13-7 lead, Cook, from his cornerback position, picked off quarterback Marlon Smith at the five yard line and turned on the jets, bolting 95 yards for a score to tie the game at 13 with 8:36 left after the snap on the extra point went high.
On the next series, Smith went deep down the sidelines but there was Cook again going up high and snagging the ball for interception number two.
Four plays later, with the Rockets on the 21, he took over at quarterback from the wildcat position and bolted 12 yards for a first down to the 9 and scored around the left side on the next play to give the Rockets a 20-13 with 4:33 left.
And then came one final curtain call. Three plays into the next drive, Smith fired one to the right flat towards Thaiu Jones-Bell but there was Cook again, timing it perfectly, jumping the route and racing 35 yards for his second pick six as his teammates mobbed him in the end zone.
“My team needed a big play and I just went out there and made it,” said Cook of his 95-yard return. “I was playing deep on the play and when I saw he underthrew it, I just broke on the ball and took off running. This was a great team win and I’m just happy I was able to help my team pull it out. Now we just want to get ready for a long run in the playoffs.”
With Northwestern having already wrapped things up last week, there was no district title on the line for either team but there was still plenty to play for. Not only bragging rights, but with both teams locked in as wild card entries, seeding numbers, mainly who will be No. 5 seed and No. 6 was at stake.
Now it appears the Rockets will get the No. 5 slot, which actually is important as it appears that Dillard will finish in the No. 4 spot which is where the Rockets will likely go in the first round. Meanwhile, Carol City could wind up sixth which means they will have a little tougher challenge, having to hit the road and head upstate to play Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, where they traveled a year ago for a regional final 33-7 victory, or Heritage in Palm Bay.
“The win still means a lot to us,” said Smith. “We did want to be district champs but if you can’t you want to at least be the highest seed you can. And to be honest, after sitting on the sidelines and watching everyone else in the playoffs last year, we’re just happy to be back in and will go play whoever we play. We don’t care if it’s the Dolphins, we just want to keep playing and try and win another state championship.”
For the longest time, it appeared James Cook would follow in his brother Dalvin’s footsteps and go play for the Seminoles but finally backed off of his soft FSU commit last month when Georgia came at him hard.
“My family, my teammates, my coaches, I mean it’s just a great program,” said Cook. “Coach McGee, the running backs coach, he lets you be yourself and I was just real comfortable with everything.”
Did the struggles Florida State is going through this year having anything to do with him decommitting?
“FSU? I mean, not really, it was just a thing where Georgia just caught my attention,” said Cook who laughed when the questioner suggested that maybe Georgia coaches, after seeing tape of this game, might think about putting him on the defensive side of the ball instead. “Nah, that’s okay, I want to run it and I’m looking forward to doing that up there.”