Central running back Dalvin Cook wore the No. 3 in honor of injured teammate Joseph Yearby on Friday night.
Receiver Da’Vante Phillips put up three fingers after one of his three touchdown catches.
And now the Rockets are one step away from state championship No. 3.
Bolstered by Phillips’ three touchdown connections with quarterback Keith Reed, Central clinched a trip back to the state finals in Orlando with a 28-15 victory against Daytona Beach Mainland at Traz Powell Stadium.
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Central (13-1), ranked No. 3 nationally by USA Today, won its 12th consecutive game and became the first Miami-Dade County team to advance to state four seasons in a row.
The Rockets will try to win their second consecutive state title and third in the past four seasons when they face Seffner Armwood next Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Class 6A championship game in the Citrus Bowl.
Armwood defeated Central in the state final in 2011.
“[Former Central coach] Telly Lockette did a tremendous job with this program and my goal this year was just to continue what he did,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “During the week, Dalvin said he wanted to honor Joe. The team wanted to dedicate this one to him.”
Central didn’t have its usual rushing output as Mainland (12-2) held the Rockets to 84 rushing yards, 73 of which came from Cook.
But the Rockets overcame the absence of Yearby, who last week suffered a season-ending injury when he fractured his left fibula in a win against Palm Bay Heritage. Yearby watched the game walking on crutches from the sideline after having surgery Wednesday.
Central rallied from a 9-7 deficit in the first quarter thanks to its defense, which held Mainland on downs twice in the second half allowing the Rockets to score 21 unanswered points.
Phillips finished with eight catches for 211 yards and three touchdowns.
Reed ran for a touchdown and completed 12 of 23 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Among the highlights was an 81-yard touchdown strike between the two that put Central ahead 14-9. The Rockets never trailed again.
“Even though the running game wasn’t like we’re used to, I wanted to show everyone I can be the go-to guy when they put the ball in the air,” Phillips said.
Mainland quarterback Trey Rodriguez finished with 219 total yards (124 rushing, 95 passing), but was limited in the second half throwing one interception to Central cornerback Jamel Cook.
“Since my freshman year, we’ve been going to state and it feels good,” Phillips said. “Our goal next week is redemption because [Armwood] is the only one that beat us.”