Ever since a poor outing against DeMatha Catholic to open the season, speculation abounded as to the status of Miami Central’s football team.
The past three weeks have shown it’s a bit early to hit the panic button.
Another superb defensive effort Saturday night against Norland propelled Central to a 13-0 win over the Vikings at North Miami Stadium and its third consecutive shutout since that debacle in D.C.
The Rockets (3-1, 1-0 in district) had three sacks, forced two turnovers and limited Norland (2-2, 0-1) to 64 total yards as they earned their first crucial district victory.
“This was the best game we played defensively this year,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “Our kids did a great job executing our game plan. In order for us to win, we need to play this type of defense.”
Central, winner of three consecutive state titles and four in the past five seasons, shut out Miami Killian and Jacksonville First Coast the past two weeks. But the Rockets knew a victory over Norland, which owns one of the best defenses statewide, would go a long way toward quieting some of the doubters.
Central’s offense, which has been inconsistent at times and the cause for some concern, struck quickly Saturday as Tijuane Morten found Darnell Salomon for a 52-yard pass on the game’s first play.
Morten conducted most of that opening 10-play, 77-yard drive, until he injured his hip while converting a fourth down on a rush to the Norland 1-yard line. Morten was clocked by Norland linebacker Emmett Rice on the play, jarring his helmet loose. Morten did not return, but senior quarterback Jerrod Thomas scored on the next play on a 1-yard sneak to give Central a 6-0 lead.
Salomon, who transferred to Central before the season, played a huge role in the game, taking several snaps out of the Wildcat formation.
But lining back up at receiver, Salomon made the game-sealing touchdown catch with 5 minutes 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter when he hauled in a pass from Thomas in traffic.
Salomon finished with 85 yards on four catches and ran for 29 yards on seven attempts, often breaking several tackles to fight for extra yardage.
“We needed to boost our quarterback and I went up and made the big catch,” Salomon said. “We just started practicing me playing in the Wildcat this week. I knew I needed to learn the plays and execute them right.”
Norland’s defense kept the game a defensive stalemate, thanks mainly to its secondary making big plays to stop two Central drives into the red zone. Bryon Brown and Sam Marc each intercepted Thomas in Norland’s own end zone in the second quarter preventing Central from extending its lead.
Central defensive back Jamel Cook’s interception in the fourth quarter kept Norland from scoring. A special teams miscue helped the Rockets gain possession and drive for the winning score. A punt by Central’s Jordan Nadelman got a favorable bounce and touched Norland’s returner allowing Robinson Rocques to recover at the Norland 38, setting up the final touchdown three plays later.
Smith said that although his team’s offense has improved in recent games, its red-zone efficiency is an area of concern going forward. Central faces Booker T. Washington next Saturday and plays Carol City in another pivotal district game the following Saturday.
“Our offensive line gave our quarterbacks time most of the game, but we’re not satisfied because we have to convert in the red zone,” Smith said. “If we can clean that up we should be fine going forward.”