High School Sports

Rushing offense and defense key for Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington running back Craig Nelson (9) carries the ball against Miami Edison during the playoff game on Thurs., Nov. 17, 2016 at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami.
Booker T. Washington running back Craig Nelson (9) carries the ball against Miami Edison during the playoff game on Thurs., Nov. 17, 2016 at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Through the first two rounds, South Florida teams are still alive in every classification of the state playoffs.

Miami-Dade and Broward county teams have combined to win four or more state championships each year for the past four seasons and have a great shot at extending that streak next month.

Some of the toughest obstacles they will face this postseason come this weekend, however, with a few up north where the state’s longest active championship streak will be put to the test.

▪ Class 4A state semifinal — Booker T. Washington (9-3) at Cocoa (10-1): Booker T. and Cocoa meet for the sixth consecutive season in the state semifinal round, matching Jacksonville University Christian and Tallahassee North Florida Christian for the second-longest streak in state history of two teams facing off in the playoffs.

The Tornadoes have won all five previous meetings, and a sixth victory in a row over the host Tigers would give Booker T. the longest postseason winning streak in consecutive seasons since Fort Meade beat Belle Glade Glades Day seven years in a row from 1999-05.

Last season, Booker T. peaked following a tumultuous 5-5 regular season and routed Cocoa on its way to a Dade-record fourth consecutive state title.

Two more wins and the Tornadoes will be the only Dade team in the playoff era (1963 on) to win five in a row.

It will come down to establishing the run and stopping the run.

After struggling most of the season, Booker T. has been prolific running the ball the past three games as senior Craig Nelson has run for 115 yards or more.

Nelson had only one 100-plus yard game all season prior to that streak.

Cocoa is averaging 287.1 yards per game on the ground.

Booker T.’s defense is allowing 110.8 yards per game, but only 62.6 yards over the past five games.

Andre’s pick: Booker T. 19, Cocoa 17.

▪ Region 4-8A final — Coral Gables (10-1) at Southridge (9-2), 3 p.m.: By the time Southridge steps on the field Friday, it will have not allowed a single point for more than two months.

That’s pretty remarkable considering it’s not just the Spartans defensive prowess on display. Southridge’s special teams and it’s offense have also not allowed any gift points to opponents.

Coral Gables, coming off a big win over Columbus, is similar to the Spartans in that category with a skilled, opportunistic defense that can create turnovers that lead to easy points.

Whether the Spartans’ shutout streak reaches eight in a row or not, they may have a slight edge if they keep making those momentum-swinging plays.

Andre’s pick: Southridge 13, Coral Gables 7.

▪ Region 4-6A final — Carol City (7-3) at Daytona Beach Mainland (11-0): Mainland lost four times in five years to Central and is hoping a change of opponent will change its fortunes in this round.

Led by versatile senior quarterback Denzel Houston, the Bucs are averaging 48.6 points per game.

Carol City has had one of the state’s stingiest defenses all season, and hadn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game until last week.

Andre’s pick: Carol City 28, Mainland 27.

▪ Region 4-7A final — St. Thomas Aquinas (9-2) vs. Mater Academy (10-1) at Milander Park: Aquinas faces its former coach, Rocco Casullo, in this round for the second season in a row. The Lions upended previously unbeaten McArthur in dramatic fashion last week.

Aquinas clobbered Dwyer, but a postgame brawl could lead to an undetermined number of players suspended as the FHSAA reviews the incident. Aquinas should still have the depth to handle this round.

Andre’s pick: Aquinas 27, Mater 6.

▪ Region 4-5A final — American Heritage (11-0) at Orlando Bishop Moore (11-1): These two met in 2014 in a classic state semifinal that came down to a game-winning Patriots’ field goal. Heritage’s defense has been up to the challenge all season.

Andre’s pick: American Heritage 14, Bishop Moore 10.

▪ Region 3-8A final — Delray Beach Atlantic (9-3) at Deerfield Beach (9-2): The Bucks cleared a big obstacle beating Flanagan, and should have a less difficult time this week.

Andre’s pick: Deerfield Beach 28, Atlantic 7.

▪ Class 3A state semifinal — Chaminade-Madonna (8-3) at Melbourne Central Catholic (11-0): The Lions will run with Shaun Shivers and they will score, especially if the passing of Henry Colombi can balance things out. But they will only win if their defense can contain a high-octane MCC offense. The Hustlers are balanced both running the ball and throwing it and have defeated nine of their 11 opponents by 22 or more points and six by 40 or more points.

Andre’s pick: MCC 38, Chaminade-Madonna 35.

▪ Class 2A state semifinal — Champagnat Catholic (10-1) vs. St. Petersburg Northside Christian (10-2) at Curtis Park: The visiting Mustangs are coached by former Tampa Bay Bucs star fullback Mike Alstott and quarterbacked by his son Griffin (2,170 yards and 31 TDs). Alstott, a Purdue commitment, is one of the best quarterbacks the Lions have faced this season. They’ll need more offense if they’re to have a chance.

Andre’s pick: Northside Christian 20, Champagnat 15.

NOTE: All games at 7:30 p.m. Friday unless noted.

Andre’s record – (Miami-Dade) Last week: 2-4; Season: 248-52. (Broward) Last week: 4-2; Season: 218-46. Playoffs (Miami-Dade): 13-5; (Broward): 16-3.

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