Booker T. Washington and Central’s epic clash last season decided a national championship.
Though the two powerhouses aren’t ranked No. 1 and 2 nationally, this year’s meeting likely will influence who wins this year’s championship as both are ranked in the top 10 in multiple polls.
Booker T. Washington has won a state-best 28 games in a row since a loss to Central in 2012.
Central has won 14 in a row since last season’s defeat to Booker T.
So for the second consecutive season, the chance to be the nation’s best hinges on earning a victory Friday night at Traz Powell Stadium.
“The teams both schools have been able to put together the past three or four years is what makes this such a big game,” Booker T. coach Tim Harris Jr. said. “You talk about the friendships on both sides with coaches that have coached together in the past for years, or coaches like me that played for coaches over there in the past and are like family. It’s sweet.”
Regardless of who wins Friday, both Booker T. and Central will still have the opportunity to become Dade’s first team to win three consecutive state titles.
But victory means a lot to both sides and goes beyond national championship contention.
“This was the first time our program has played its first two games back to back on the road,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “We did a tremendous job getting the kids up for both games. But we know we won’t have to do much to get them up for this game this week.”
Both Smith and Harris agreed playing their first two games on the road helped them learn a lot about their respective squads, which are each depending on new starters in key roles.
Central (2-0), ranked No. 6 by USA Today, has shown its offense can still run the football despite graduating superstars Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby. Senior Cedric Miller has played a huge role, running for a combined 292 yards in victories against Hoover (Ala.) and Stephenson (Ga.). The Rockets will likely try to get star senior receiver Da’Vante Phillips more involved as they did against Hoover.
Reigning national champion Booker T. (2-0), ranked No. 4 by MaxPreps, has shown similar explosiveness, led by running back Mark Walton, a UM commit, the accuracy of senior quarterback Maurice Alexander, an FIU commit, and receiver Antonio Callaway.
“We’re the two big dogs in Miami so it’s a battle for Miami-Dade County, but it’s also a big national rivalry,” Walton said. “We have to make sure we can gash them and don’t let them take us out of our game early.”
But comparing skill-position talent among the two juggernauts won’t reveal a clear difference.
The key battle could be in the trenches, where a veteran Booker T. offensive line led by seniors Deiontae Lynch, Clayton Cobb, Ceasar Jimenez, Ben Tirolia and sophomore Willa Pierre will battle Central’s vaunted defense led by linemen Keir Thomas, a junior, and seniors Fermin Silva and Keivonnis Davis.
“They’re fast and very physical and they’ve been together a little while so they know their system very well,” Lynch said. “We’ve been watching film a lot and making sure we can protect our quarterback and allow him to be successful.”
The rest of Central’s defense is riddled with talent, led by senior linebackers Donovan Thompson, Olin Cushion (FIU commit) and Marquis Couch (Marshall commit), and defensive backs Calvin Brewton (FSU commit) and Jamel Cook.
“They’re very good at getting to the quarterback and pursuing,” Alexander said. “I have to get the ball out quick and not let them get sacks and get momentum on us.”