Miami Central completed a four-year journey Saturday to an exclusive place in Miami-Dade County high school football history.
With his buddy and fellow star running back Joseph Yearby cheering him on from the sideline, senior running back Dalvin Cook led the Rockets’ 52-7 onslaught of Seffner Armwood in the Class 6A state championship game that secured Central’s second consecutive state championship and third in the past four seasons.
A crowd of 4,001 at the Citrus Bowl watched Central (13-1), ranked No. 3 nationally by USA Today and already the first Dade team to advance to state four consecutive seasons, become the first team in the county to win three titles in a four-year span in the playoff era, which began in 1963.
“It’s a special feeling,” Cook said. “I just feel like Miami Central is starting to become recognized with some of the best in the state. I’m proud for the program.”
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Cook ran for 223 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries, and the Central defense totaled five sacks and three interceptions as the Rockets avenged their lone state championship loss over the past four seasons.
Central joined Coral Gables, Miami Northwestern, Miami Carol City and Miami Booker T. Washington as the only Dade schools to win three or more state titles since 1963.
They also joined those schools as the only ones to win back-to-back state championships.
Central coach Roland Smith, who spent six seasons away from coaching following his tenure at rival Northwestern, won his second career state title in his first season with the Rockets.
Smith became the second coach in Miami-Dade County history to win a state title at two different schools and the ninth statewide. Former Northwestern and Central coach Billy Rolle is the other from Dade winning state titles at Northwestern (1998, 2007) and Miami Killian (2004).
“It feels great, like I’m dreaming right now,” Smith said. “When I left the game, I had won a state championship. I told these guys I want it and let’s go out there and win it again. We don’t know another way but to win and that’s in our DNA. We went out and showed we’re one of the best teams in the nation.”
Central’s defense forced Armwood to punt on its first seven drives holding the Hawks (14-1) to seven total yards during that stretch. Tavius Brown Jr. returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown and Ron Dyer and Donavan Thompson each had one interception. Thompson, Marquis Couch, Fred Jones, Twan Adams and Tamerick Simpson each had a sack.
The defense came through collectively during the playoffs after key players such as Calvin Brewton (elbow) and Carlin Clark (knee) went down with season-ending injuries.
“We had to go through a lot this season [with injuries],” Couch said. “Those guys stepped up and put in work. When they went down and then Joe Yearby went down we had to step up for them.”
Cook and Yearby, arguably Dade’s best running back duo, became a solo act the past two-plus games after Yearby, a University of Miami commitment, fractured his left fibula in the regional finals. But Cook made sure the final chapter was special.
Cook’s 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter prompted a running clock as Central would hand Armwood its worst defeat in six trips to state. Cook added another 5-yard score with 7:10 remaining.
Cook and Yearby each finished with 177 carries this season with Cook totaling 1,940 yards and a county-high 34 touchdowns. Yearby had 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Yearby finished his career as Dade’s second all-time career leading rusher with 5,593 yards (721 carries and 68 touchdowns) only behind former Miami Killian star Bobby Washington’s 5,695.
Cook totaled 4,267 yards on 399 carries for a 10.69 yards per carry, which is more than former Miami Norland star Duke Johnson’s 10.0 average, which was believed to be the best all-time for a Dade running back with at least 150 career attempts.
“Joe has been a motivator,” said Central junior wide receiver Da’Vante Phillips, who finished with 92 yards and a touchdown on four catches. “He said go out there ‘man child’ and do what you do.”
Yearby was able to lead Central one final time Saturday as he stood at the front of the line during postgame handshakes with Armwood players.
“That [moment] was very special because they wanted to show they didn’t forget me,” Yearby said. “It was awesome because I knew my boys would play their hearts out and do what they do.”