Miami Central coaches proudly waved four fingers in the air, each coach wearing four shiny state championship rings.
They shouted “five-time champs” referring to the school’s fifth state title in six years. One coach even blurted out “five in a row.”
If it was an early prediction for next season’s outcome, it should probably be taken seriously the way the Rockets have made it an annual tradition to dominate the competition here.
Central delivered another powerful performance Saturday afternoon by smashing its familiar state-tournament foe Seffner Armwood 48-13 in the Class 6A final in front of 3,908 spectators at the Citrus Bowl.
Central won its fifth state title overall in a six-year span, also becoming the third team in state history to win that many championships in such a span. The others were Pahokee (2003-05, 2007-08) and Tallahassee North Florida Christian (1996, 1998-2001).
The Rockets also joined Miami Booker T. Washington, a week after it won the Class 4A title, as the only schools in Miami-Dade County history to win four consecutive state titles. Central, which is the only Dade school and third statewide to advance to six consecutive state finals, has compiled a 78-8 record during that span.
“It’s about the continuity of the coaching staff,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “They’re always working real hard and not settling for being just the best. We do a tremendous job of developing young talent. This year we only had two returning offensive lineman. That’s why we came out the gates slow. As the season progressed, you saw we got better.”
Smith joined some elite coaching company as he won his fourth state title, which ties him with legendary Coral Gables coach Nick Kotys for the most by any Dade coach.
“I’ll think about that when I retire,” Smith said. “But right now I’m just thinking about enjoying this moment with my coaching staff and the kids.”
Central (12-2) beat Armwood for the third consecutive season at state and beat the previously undefeated Hawks (14-1) by 35 points or more for the second time in three seasons. The younger brother of the star of that 52-7 victory in 2013 provided most of the offensive punch on Saturday.
Two years after then-Central senior Dalvin Cook, now a star sophomore at Florida State, ran for 223 yards and four touchdowns, Central freshman James Cook delivered a breakout performance by scoring three touchdowns and totaling 178 yards on 15 carries. Central ran for 305 yards overall.
Senior linebacker Donovan Thompson jump-started the rout after Central fell behind 6-0 in the first quarter. His forced fumble on Armwood quarterback Darian McNeal in the red zone was picked up by junior Allen Jones and returned 90 yards for a touchdown.
“Everybody doubted us the whole year, and now we cashed out,” said Thompson, an FIU commitment. “During the playoffs, we turned it up to a whole other level.”
It was the first score in a barrage of 36 consecutive points for Central, which capped the first half with a perfectly thrown touchdown pass from quarterback Jerrod Thomas to receiver Carmoni Green on the final play of the quarter.
Senior linebacker Peterson Joseph, who won state titles on varsity all four seasons in high school, popped the ball loose on the opening kickoff of the third quarter. Four plays after sophomore Andrew Reese returned the ball to the Armwood 3-yard line, Thomas took it into the end zone on a sneak.
Thomas capped a spectacular postseason by completing 13 of 19 passes for 156 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In five playoff games, Thomas went 58 of 103 for 1,016 yards with 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
“I can’t say enough about Jerrod Thomas,” Smith said. “Whoever signs this kid is going to get a tremendous kid, a tremendous quarterback. He got us playing at a level that we’re playing at right now by him playing and picking his game up the rest of the season.”