Winning its first state championship in 2010 put Miami Central’s football team on the map.
On Saturday afternoon, the Rockets sent a clear message they are ready to be considered one of the state’s top programs.
Led again by its phenomenal running back tandem of Joseph Yearby and Dalvin Cook, Central dominated previously unbeaten Gainesville 37-14 in the Class 6A state championship game in front of a crowd of 5,198 at the Citrus Bowl.
Central (12-2) won its second state championship in its third consecutive state appearance and joined Coral Gables (four), Carol City (four), Northwestern (four), Booker T. Washington (two), Southridge (two) and Norland (two) as the only Miami-Dade schools in the playoff era (since 1963) to win multiple state championships.
With Central winning Class 6A and Booker T. winning Class 4A, it marked only the third time Dade had two state champions in the same season (Carol City and Monsignor Pace in 2003 and Northwestern and Booker T. in 2007).
And with 16 of their 22 starters returning next season, the Rockets may only be getting started.
“I think we are starting to get a program running on Northwest 95th Street now,” said Central coach Telly Lockette, the first Dade coach to lead a team to three consecutive state appearances. “The community has bought in to it, and the kids are kids that have good character and discipline. I’m so happy to have the coaches and kids that I have. We weren’t proud of how it ended [last year]. But our coaches grew up today and our players did, too.”
Yearby and Cook headlined a season in which Central bounced back from two early season losses to Georgia’s Grayson High and Bradenton Manatee (both ranked No. 1 nationally at the time Central played them).
On Saturday, the junior speedsters gave another demonstration of their collective talent, each finishing with 126 all-purpose yards.
Yearby, a Florida State commitment, finished with 125 yards on 23 carries and scored twice. Cook, a Clemson commitment, had 79 yards on 16 carries, but also scored twice.
Central found different ways to utilize their talent, running double handoffs, reverses, having Yearby line up at quarterback and Cook catching passes out of the backfield.
“We knew we had to bring everything out of the book,” Cook said. “[Seffner] Armwood did that to us in last year’s game. I know my emotions are going to kick in real soon because this is a great feeling.”
Central’s defense, which had to replace seven starters at the start of the season, overcame hardship all season. It had to again Saturday without senior safety and captain Da’Wan Hunte, who watched the game on crutches. Hunte, who is enrolling early at N.C. State, broke his ankle on the second defensive series of last week’s state semifinal win against Naples.
Aside from Ralphael Webb’s 80-yard touchdown run with 1:29 left in the first quarter, the Rockets’ defense contained Gainesville’s tandem of he and Tony James to 105 more combined yards. Central also frustrated Gainesville (14-1) by pressuring quarterback Mark Cato throughout the game, sacking him three times, and limiting him to 3 of 17 attempts for 70 yards, and an interception.
“[Central] was as good as advertised and even better up front,” Gainesville coach James Thomson said. “Their overall speed and physicality was something we just hadn’t seen and was kind of an unknown thing coming in, but we found out quick.”
Devyn Reid had two of those sacks, a forced fumble and a recovery. Ahmad Thomas, an Oklahoma commitment, led the team with 13 tackles.
“I’m so proud of those guys because it took leadership to get this far and get it done,” Hunte said. “I feel so blessed to be a part of it.”
One of the key defensive contributions came from an offensive player doubling up on defense — something Central did often this season to bolster depth. Wide receiver Roderick Carter, the only senior on offense, intercepted Cato late in the first half and delivered a key 48-yard catch-and-run that led to an early Emilio Nadelman field goal.
“We wanted to win it so bad after last year,” Thomas said. “In a word, this was redemption. A lot of the seniors had to step up, especially when [Hunte] went down.”
Nadelman, a South Florida commitment, capped a great career by making three of four field goals (one was blocked) and drilling all eight of his kickoffs for touchbacks and often clearing the back of the end zone. He also punted twice, including a 49-yard effort that pinned the Purple Hurricanes inside their 20.
“The message we wanted to send all season was not to count us out,” Lockette said. “Our kids fought back and climbed back. We had a lot of kids that played both ways, and when the money was on the line, our kids knew they couldn’t be selfish and played wherever was needed.”
MIAMI CENTRAL 37,
MC-FG Nadelman 22
MC-Yearby 35 run (Nadelman kick)
MC-FG Nadelman 38
GNV-Webb 80 run (Holloway kick)
MC-Cook 1 run (Nadelman kick)
MC-Yearby 19 run (Nadelman kick)
MC-Cook 6 run (Nadelman kick)
GNV-Webb 5 run (Holloway kick)
MC-FG Nadelman 45
Rushing (att-yds) — GNV: Cato 7-0, James 8-30, Webb 19-155. MC: Bell 1-6, Reed 3-36, Adams 8-39, Cook 16-79, Yearby 23-125.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds) — GNV: Harrison 0-1-0, 0, Cato 3-17-1, 70. MC: Yearby 0-2-0, 0, Reed 6-10-0, 113.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) — GNV: Prunty 1-13, Harrison 1-17, Thompson 1-40. MC: Yearby 1-1, Brown, Jr. 1-3, Cook 2-47, Carter 2-62.