Never mind the nightmarish start. When it came time to show their true grit and poise, the Central Rockets, who have been around the block many times in big games, showed it again on Saturday night.
The much-anticipated battle with a Cardinal Gibbons team that was ranked 20th nationally (Max Preps) before a sold out, standing-room-only crowd lining up along the fences around the entire stadium at Gibbons High School, wound up not being much of a battle at all.
That’s because, after Central struggled for the first quarter and a half, falling behind 14-0, the Rockets, who have their own No. 13 national Max Preps ranking, blitzed Gibbons with 35 unanswered points, ultimately putting the finishing touches on a 48-21 beating of the Chiefs in the Third Annual Best of Broward vs. Dade Superintendent’s Cup.
“We’re glad this trophy is going back to 305 and we plan on keeping it there,” said jubilant head coach Roland Smith to his celebrating players following the game. “You kids did a great job out there tonight and earned every bit of this.
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Hampered by a truckload of penalties and misplays in the first 18 minutes of the game, the Rockets could not get out of their own way.
But then a nice 11-play, 80-yard drive culminated by quarterback Maurice Underwood’s 2-yard touchdown with 3:07 before the half sliced the Gibbons lead in half and more importantly seemed to settle the Rockets down.
Then came perhaps the turning point of the game. With under a minute left in the half and Gibbons punting at midfield, the Chiefs misfired on the punt as it went only seven yards.
At his own 41, Underwood dropped back and fired a perfect strike downfield hitting Anthony Fedrick in stride for a 59-yard touchdown just 27 seconds before the half to tie the game at 14 at the break.
“No doubt that that’s probably where everything turned in our favor,” said Smith. “That was a huge moment. I went to the half and told them it was 0-0 now and that we hadn’t even started playing Rocket football yet. We took off from there.”
Took off indeed as the Rockets, despite Gibbons receiving the second half kickoff, would score two touchdowns in the first three minutes of the third quarter to open a 28-14 lead and then add one more late in the third to make it 35-14.
After a quick three-and-out to open the half by Gibbons, Underwood struck again on Central’s second play, finding a wide-open Anthony Colonel down the middle for a 52-yard score.
When Gibbons’ Vincent Davis fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, Underwood wasted little time again, dropping back on the first play and finding Jaylin Young in the end zone for a 31-yard score.
“Things didn’t go well early but I just told my teammates, but patient, I’ve got you all,” said Underwood who enjoyed a huge night, completing 15-of-27 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns. “These kind of things have happened to us before so to us, it’s no big deal. We know we have the ability to settle down and play Rocket football and that’s what we did.”
Gibbons managed to stem the Central momentum temporarily as quarterback Nick Scalzo, who was harassed all night long by a menacing Rocket pass rush, led his team on a late third quarter touchdown drive, Davis going over from 15 yards out, to cut it to 35-21.
The Chiefs then put together another drive midway through the fourth that reached the Central 26 and on fourth down, Scalzo dropped back and appeared to have found Troy Stellato in the end zone that would’ve cut the lead to seven. But Stellato couldn’t hang on to the ball when he hit the ground
The Rockets then went on a 74-yard, eight play drive with running back Kejon Owens, who finished as the game’s leading rusher with 88 yards on 14 carries, scoring from 14 yards out to put the game away.
Not only was the loss stinging for the Chiefs but things only got worse late in the game when Scalzo left the game late with a right shoulder injury and was seen leaving the field with his shoulder wrapped in plastic with ice.
“The kids were definitely frustrated early,” said Smith. “It didn’t seem like we were getting a lot of calls but I told the kids, let me deal with that, you all just stay focused and keep playing. A great win for us tonight against a very good team but we’ve got no time to do much celebrating. We’ve got a long season ahead of us with a lot of tough games starter with Booker T. Washington next week.”
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