Miami Central’s status as a state championship contender had rarely been disputed over the past five seasons as much as it had over the past two months.
The Rockets crushed those doubts on Friday night.
Led by another dominant defensive effort and its best offensive performance of the season, Central routed Carol City 36-8 in a Region 4-6A semifinal at Traz Powell Stadium.
“It all started in practice this week,” Central defensive end Keir Thomas said. “You could see it in their eyes all week since last Saturday.”
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The conclusion of the game was marred unfortunately by an incident in the stands with less than three minutes remaining.
Screams were heard coming from the stands and fans were seen running to the exits located on each side of the grandstand when gunshots were heard in the distance.
Police ran into the stands in an attempt to restore control as coaches yelled and waved frantically for players to get down.
Stadium officials called the game with 2:58 remaining in the fourth quarter and cleared the field of all personnel.
“You hate to see anything like that happen, but luckily it seems like no one was hurt,” Central coach Roland Smith said after the game.
The Rockets (9-2), the reigning three-time Class 6A state champions, advanced to play Mainland High next Friday in Daytona Beach at 7:30 p.m. The Rockets have eliminated Mainland the past two seasons and three times in the past four years.
“Mainland is going to be very tough,” Keir Thomas said. “We’ve watched them on film and they have a great quarterback. We’re confident, but we’re not going to get big-headed. We can’t going into this game.”
Carol City (9-3) defeated Central 8-7 on Oct. 3 in a game that eventually helped the Chiefs secure the District 16-6A title. In that game, Carol City quarterback Steven Calvert and Central quarterback Jerrod Thomas each sustained injuries early.
Calvert entered the game leading all Miami-Dade County large-school passers in yardage.
Thomas had played through a season of inconsistency for Central’s offense, especially at the quarterback position.
On Friday, however, Thomas got the best of the Chiefs.
He completed 9 of 14 passes for 223 yards, three touchdown passes and ran for another with no interceptions.
“I felt very confident, and I took the way we played the last game upon myself,” Jerrod Thomas said. “We stayed a little late this week, me and Jernard [Phillips], and worked on our passing game.”
Following an errant long snap on a punt that led to a Carol City safety and a brief 2-0 lead, a 71-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Phillips gave the Rockets the lead at 7-2.
Phillips, the younger brother of former Central star receiver Da’Vante Phillips, left the game just before halftime with a left ankle injury.
After Carol City reclaimed the lead at 8-7, Thomas found Phillips again for a 60-yard strike that set up a 4-yard, go-ahead touchdown run early in the second quarter.
The offensive outburst gave Central confidence and allowed its defense to consistently rush Calvert into mistakes. Calvert completed only 14 of 34 passes for 139 yards and threw two interceptions.
Central defensive back Jamal Hudson had both and returned the first one 76 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter as Central scored 29 unanswered points.
Central held Carol City to minus-2 yards rushing and 137 yards overall.
“We knew we didn’t play our best football in the first game against Carol City, and we felt we gave them that game,” Smith said. “Throughout training camp and throughout practice, these kids face adversity and they respond, and today they played like champions.”
CC-Safety. Punt snapped out of end zone.
CEN-Phillips 71 pass from Thomas (Lopez kick)
CC-Wright 1 run (run failed)
CEN-Thomas 4 run (Lopez kick)
CEN-Brinson 15 pass from Thomas (Lopez kick)
CEN-Hudson 76 interception return (Lopez kick)
CEN-Carter 34 pass from Thomas (Carter pass from Morten)
Rushing (att-yds) -- CEN: Cook 1-0, Mike 3-4, Thomas 4-5, Smith 16-68. CC: Calvert 3-(-18), Newbold 1-(-1), Rolle 3-(-1), Wright 13-18.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- CEN: Thomas 9-14-0, 223. CC: Calvert 14-34-2, 139.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- CEN: Cook 1-6, Green 2-9, Brinson 1-15, Carter 3-62, Phillips 2-131. CC: Tucker 2-11, Wright 1-12, Smith 2-18, Newbold 4-27, Dingle 3-60.