Miami Central’s daunting early schedule this season gave it a chance to figure out its identity.
The Rockets now know the winning formula is to keep Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby on the field at the same time on every play.
Central’s talented duo served up a combined 251 yards and three rushing touchdowns to help the Rockets beat Columbus 28-17 on Friday night at Traz Powell Stadium.
Central (2-2), ranked No. 3 in Class 6A, had two weeks to prepare for Columbus (3-2) and recover from a 44-34 loss to Bradenton Manatee, a team ranked No. 1 nationally by ESPN.
“The bye week did a lot of good things for us because we got our legs back,” Central coach Telly Lockette said. “We played two of the top three teams in the nation. We’re starting to gel a little bit now. That’s a good thing for us.”
Central played junior Keith Reed at quarterback and let Yearby take snaps again out of the shotgun formation at times. But it was the explosiveness of both running backs that made the big plays for Central so it could take control early.
Cook, a junior and a Clemson commitment, finished with 157 yards on nine carries and scored two touchdowns, including a 70-yard run that deflated Columbus’ hopes of rallying late after it had cut the deficit to 21-10.
Columbus’ own talented backfield did not muster much against Central’s defense until Lorenzo Woodley capped a long drive late in the third quarter with a 3-yard touchdown run. Woodley, however, finished with just 51 yards on 12 carries.
Even explosive senior Daryl Chestnut finished with 106 yards on 11 carries, but 40 of those yards came on a touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter with Central ahead 28-10.
Central’s defense made a momentum-changing play early in the second half.
An option pitch from Columbus quarterback Tucker Beirne bounced off the hands of Woodley. De’Vante Duclos picked the ball up, maintained his balance and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown that put Central ahead 21-3.
“We’ve played some great teams, and our record shows it being 2-2,” Cook said. “We’ve been working a lot, and we’re starting to get things together.”
Yearby, who shifted his way through the Columbus defense for a 35-yard score early in the second quarter, finished with 94 yards on 17 carries and credited the progression of his team on offense to the success of a line that is made up mostly of juniors.
“We started slow, but we are starting to see the line get better, especially since the bye week,” Yearby said.
Central’s victory over the Explorers finished a stretch of games that included then-national No. 1 Grayson (Ga.), defending Class 4A state runner-up Booker T. Washington and Manatee.
The Rockets will face their four district foes consecutively over the next four games, starting with Homestead next week.