Football battles these days between Booker T. Washington and Central decide which team remains among the country’s best.
Thanks to a gutsy performance in the closing seconds Friday night, Booker T. is still alive in its bid to repeat as national champion.
Senior defensive end Andre Duncombe sacked Central quarterback Jerrod Thomas with less than 15 seconds remaining.
The Rockets scrambled to attempt a game-winning field goal at Booker T.’s 30-yard line, but without any timeouts, time expired, allowing Booker T. to hang on for a 21-20 victory at Traz Powell Stadium.
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“That was scary, but then we finally got them down and their players were cramping up so they couldn’t make the play,” Duncombe said. “We just went wild after that.”
Booker T. (3-0), ranked No. 4 nationally by MaxPreps, won its state-best 29th consecutive game and beat Central (2-1), ranked No. 6 nationally by USA Today, for the second consecutive season. The Rockets’ winning streak was snapped at 14 games.
Both teams had scored a pair of out-of-state victories to open their seasons setting up Friday’s huge showdown.
“When you get off the two week stretch we had, it’s that much more brutal,” Booker T. coach Tim Harris Jr. said. “It doesn’t get much easier from here on, but we’re excited for the rest of the season.”
Central scored 10 fourth quarter points starting with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Da’Vante Phillips with 11:17 left to cut Booker T.’s lead to 21-17.
After a defensive stand, the Rockets appeared to be heading in for another score but a couple of penalties hampered the drive and forced them to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Beymar Piraquve that cut the deficit to one point with 4:35 left.
Thomas found Phillips for two consecutive completions, then Anthony Jones for two more advancing to the Tornadoes’ 28 with 29.1 seconds left.
Booker T., however, stopped Central running back Cedric Miller for no gain, forcing the Rockets to call their final timeout with 23.6 seconds left. On the ensuing play, Thomas rolled out toward the sideline and was chased down by Duncombe.
Central ran its field goal unit out in a hurry, but was unable to snap the ball in time.
“When you see this game on the schedule you know it’s going to be huge,” Harris said. “You just know it’s going to come down to the end. You try to keep your team composed. Our defense stepped up [Friday] and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Booker T. appeared to take control of the game in the third quarter on Maurice Alexander’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Darius Scott to give the Tornadoes a 21-10 lead. Alexander ran for 71 yards and threw for 116. Junior running back Mark Walton ran for 126 yards and a touchdown as well.
One of the biggest momentum-changing plays came in the second quarter when Central punter Jauvanie Francis mishandled the long snap and kicked a line drive to Davante Davis at Booker T.’s 40. Davis, with a running start, took off down the sideline and returned the punt 60 yards for a touchdown that gave Booker T. the lead for good.
Miller ran for 125 yards on 23 carries, and Thomas passed for 255 yards to lead the Rockets offense.
But Central committed 15 penalties for 126 yards, stifling much of its efforts on offense.
“Our defense stayed strong and nobody laid down,” Alexander said. “Now we can keep our focus on just playing.”