Losing a key player is always tough but the worst time to have it happen is just days before a state championship game.
That’s what happened to coach Roland Smith and Miami Central when starting cornerback Christopher Williams sustained a season-ending knee injury in practice early in the week. Williams will not be in the lineup when Central takes on Seffner Armwood — for the fourth time in the past five years — in the Class 6A title game Saturday at 1 p.m. in Citrus Bowl.
Williams is the only junior to start on the Rockets’ defense and had a 65-yard game-changing punt return for a touchdown against Naples in last week’s state semifinal win.
Senior Robinson Rocques is listed behind Williams on the depth chart and is expected to start in his absence.
“You always feel bad for a kid who has worked so hard to get to this point and then can’t play in the biggest game of the season,” Smith said.
“Chris worked really hard to help us get to where we are. But around here, it has been ‘next man up’ all season long. Fortunately, Armwood is a more run-oriented team that doesn’t throw it a lot so we should be OK.”
▪ Sometimes versatility can pay dividends and that was the case this past season for Flanagan coach Devin Bush Sr.
With a stacked defensive line but shorthanded on the offensive side, Bush asked end Natrone Ray to move to right guard despite only being 5-10 and 215 pounds.
Ray did not disappoint and will be on the field Saturday night at 7 when the Falcons face Kissimmee Osceola in the 8A championship game.
“It was just a matter of need,’’ Bush said. “What was really impressive is, I didn’t even need to ask him. He raised his hand right up and said ‘let’s go.’ Natrone is like an adopted son to me and I can’t be more proud of the job he’s done.”
Ray took the move in stride.
“It was pretty easy for me, nothing major because I’m pretty athletic and it’s just a matter of not letting anyone get past you instead of trying to get past someone else,” said Ray, a senior who hasn’t garnered much interest from major colleges because of his lack of size. “It was just a matter of going with the flow. At first it was a little boring but I knew I needed to be a team leader and just make sure [quarterback Kalyn “Kato” Nelson] was protected so he could find his receivers.”
▪ Both opponents to the South Florida teams in Saturday’s slate of action at state will have formidable prospects on the field.
Osceola’s flexbone rushing attack is spearheaded by senior running back Laderrien Wilson, a Virgina commitment, who enters the matchup with Flanagan 18 rushing yards shy of a 2,000-yard season.
Two-way player Carlos Becker, a senior being recruited primarily as a cornerback, has the most impressive offer sheet with Florida State, Ohio State, Tennessee and Ole Miss. N.C. State and Kentucky are the favorites to land him, according to 247Sports.com.
Armwood senior defensive back Dedarallo Blue leads the team with 12 sacks and has 84 tackles with two forced fumbles and an interception. Blue lists offers from Iowa State, Toledo and North Dakota State.
Junior quarterback Darrian McNeal has passed for 1,626 yards this season and run for 1,160 with 35 combined touchdowns. He has a Boston College offer.
Football state finals
Where: The Citrus Bowl, 1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando.
Admission: $12 per session; Parking: $10.
Friday’s results — Class 5A: Orlando Bishop Moore 37, Crawfordville Wakulla 34; Class 7A: St. Thomas Aquinas 45, Viera 10.
Saturday’s schedule – Class 6A: Miami Central (11-2) vs. Seffner Armwood (14-0), 1:07; Class 8A: Flanagan (11-2) vs. Kissimmee Osceola (13-1), 7:07.