Losing two of the top running backs in Miami-Dade County history didn’t stop it.
Neither did three consecutive road playoff games, nor playing four of the more talented quarterbacks in the state.
Miami Central’s football team simply endures.
The Rockets’ consistency carried them to their county record fifth consecutive state championship game appearance Friday as they rallied to beat host Mainland 31-21 in a Class 6A semifinal at Daytona Beach Municipal Stadium.
“Anytime you can play for a state championship once, let alone five times in a row, is an unbelievable feeling,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “This coaching staff has put these kids in game-type situations all year and that’s why we keep making big plays in big situations.”
Central (13-1), ranked No.7 nationally by USA Today, will play Seffner Armwood (14-0) next Saturday in the Class 6A state championship game at 1p.m. at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. It is the third time in the past four seasons that Central will play Armwood in the state final.
The Rockets are attempting to win their third consecutive state championship — something no other Dade team had ever accomplished as of Friday. Miami Booker T. Washington has a chance to do it also if it wins the Class 4A state title Saturday.
Senior Anthony Jones, the cousin of former Central superstar tailback Dalvin Cook, now a freshman at Florida State University, had another huge game to help Central erase an early 14-3 deficit and hand Mainland its first home loss since 2010. The Rockets beat Mainland for the fourth time since 2009, including a third win in a row in the playoffs.
“Dalvin has taught me a lot,” Jones said. “I’ve been with him all my life and he’s taught me to always give it all I’ve got.”
Jones scored three touchdowns rushing and finished with 123 yards on 15 carries. Jones also caught four passes for 36 yards and had a huge kickoff return to the Mainland 40-yard line in the fourth quarter after the Bucs (13-1), ranked No.12 nationally by MaxPreps, had cut Central’s lead to 24-21 with 5:49 left on a 32-yard touchdown run by Mainland sophomore quarterback Denzel Houston.
Eight plays later, Jones was scoring the game-sealing touchdown from 3 yards out to send Central to the final.
“We knew Mainland was tough, so we had to give all we had to give and we played a tough game,” Jones said.
Fellow senior Cedric Miller ran for 63 yards on 17 carries and scored a second-quarter touchdown that began a string of 21 unanswered points for the Rockets. Central’s young offensive line began to establish itself from the second quarter on, and helped the Rockets amass 274 total yards.
The comeback would not have been possible without another stellar effort from Central’s defense, which totaled seven sacks. Junior Donovan Thompson had three, including two on a crucial defensive stand in the fourth quarter, and senior Keivonnis Davis had 21/2 sacks.
Houston finished with 100 yards passing and 42 rushing, but most of it came in the fourth quarter.
The Rockets’ defensive front entered the game with 71 sacks this season, including 24 in the playoffs.
Following Miller’s touchdown run, Jamel Cook recorded his team-high sixth interception. That turnover led to Central’s go-ahead score — a 3-yard touchdown run by Jones.
“We just had to settle down on defense,” Smith said. “We gave up some explosive plays early and once we settled down we made big plays of our own.”
MIAMI CENTRAL 31,
DAYTONA MAINLAND 21
CEN-FG Piraquive 28
MA-Bailey 3 pass from Houston (Beaudet kick)
MA-Taylor 15 pass from Houston (Beaudet kick)
CEN-Miller 13 run (Piraquive kick)
CEN-Jones 3 run (Piraquive kick)
CEN-Jones 51 run (Piraquive kick)
MA-Houston 32 run (Beaudet kick)
CEN-Jones 3 run (Piraquive kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- MC: Thomas 4-(-13), Miller 17-63, Jones 15-123. MA:Killins 13-133, Houston 21-42, Taylor 1-13, Oliver 1-2, McCrary 2-7.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- MC: Jones 1-1-0, 18, Thomas 7-10-1, 83. MA:Houston 12-24-100-0.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- MC: Thomas 1-18, Hester 1-20, Phillips 2-26, Jones 4-36. MA:Taylor 5-42, Collins 3-34, Hannah 2-26, Baker 1-3, Killins 1-2.