Two running backs churning up yards at will and a stingy defense shutting out a team in the second half.
Sound like a familiar script for Miami Central football?
The names might have changed, but the Rockets’ winning playoff formula still works, and it did again Friday night as they rallied to beat previously unbeaten Hallandale 35-19 in a Region 4-6A semifinal at the Chargers’ home field.
Central (11-1) will travel to play at Palm Bay Heritage at 7:30p.m. next Friday in the regional finals.
“Most people thought we couldn’t run the ball and win games like this when Dalvin Cook and Joe Yearby left, but we’re still here,” Central running back Anthony Jones said. “We had to play this game as a team and not as individuals. When we can do that, no one can beat us.”
Jones is one-half of a pretty powerful senior running tandem with Cedric Miller this season for Central that has kept the team at a nationally elite level following the graduation of Yearby (freshman at University of Miami) and Cook (freshman at FSU).
Jones (6-0, 185), Cook’s cousin, scored four touchdowns Friday — three rushing and one on special teams — and finished with 156 yards on 13 carries.
Miller (6-0, 190) did not score but ran for 145 yards on 24 carries.
Their efforts were needed to turn the game in Central’s favor as it scored 28 unanswered points in the second half after trailing 19-7 at halftime.
Senior linebacker Marquise Couch led the defensive effort with two fumble recoveries, the second of which he returned 38 yards for a touchdown.
“We played a great team at Hallandale, but our kids didn’t want to be denied,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “The field wasn’t in the best condition, but that’s no excuse. We had to adjust our blitz packages and start putting some pressure on [quarterback Tyler Huntley] and once we did we made some plays.”
Hallandale (10-1) played a stellar first half and looked poised to advance to the regional semifinals for the first time.
Huntley, a junior, completed 20 of 33 passes for 275 yards and threw two touchdown passes in the first half to put the Chargers ahead 13-0.
Junior receiver Joshua Hammond caught the first touchdown pass from 24 yards out and finished with 116 yards on eight catches.
Senior Richie Cooper caught the second score on a 37-yard connection and finished with six catches for 101 yards.
Although Hallandale was not able to run the ball on Central’s defense, the Rockets struggled to put pressure on Huntley in the first half.
That changed in the second half as Central as Tamerick Simpson and Keir Thomas each had drive-ending sacks.
Jones ignited Central’s offense with a 58-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. After Couch’s first fumble recovery, Central scored again on Jones’ 5-yard, go-ahead touchdown run.
Hallandale had a special-teams miscue on its next drive as a long snap sailed over its punter’s head and through the end zone for a safety.
Jones returned the ensuing free kick 63 yards for a touchdown that gave Central a 29-19 advantage and put the Rockets firmly in control of the game.
“Jones is one of those dual threat players for us and he made big time plays for us,” Smith said. “Games like these are why we go on the road and play in those hostile environments. So when we face these types of situations, we’re ready for them.”