High School Sports

High school football is here — and South Florida is loaded with marquee Week 1 matchups

Dolphins High school Media day at Hard Rock Stadium

The Miami Dolphins hosted their seventh annual high school football media day at Hard Rock Stadium. South Florida once again is loaded with talent heading into the 2019 season.
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The Miami Dolphins hosted their seventh annual high school football media day at Hard Rock Stadium. South Florida once again is loaded with talent heading into the 2019 season.

It seems like we just left Camping World Stadium in Orlando for the 2018 state football finals and just like that, the 2019 high school football season is upon us. With that comes plenty of questions.

Making the state final in Orlando used to be so automatic for Miami Central (2010 thru 2015), the Rockets probably used to reserve a hotel the previous summer. But three straight seasons of not making it upstate has made the Rockets awfully hungry. Can they make it back up?

If they do, they won’t be going to Orlando anymore. For the first time since 2006 when the finals were held in South Florida at Hard Rock Stadium, they will not be played in Orlando. The FHSAA moved the Class 4A thru 8A venue to Daytona Beach Dec. 11-14. Classes 1A thru 3A will be the previous weekend in Tallahassee.

Going back-to-back years without a state title usually isn’t a big deal. Unless you are St. Thomas Aquinas. The Raiders haven’t gone three straight years without a title since a 2000-07 stretch and will be looking to break that “drought.”

Can Northwestern perform at three-peat? The Bulls have six state titles in their trophy case but never won three in row. A 3-5 start last year turned into a miracle late run to a second straight title.

Can “the Big 3” all make it to Daytona?

Who knows all of the reasons that went into the state doing a major overhaul last year in reclassifying so many schools, but it sure benefited Central, Northwestern and Carol City. The vaunted “District of Death” was not only broken up, but each team is now in its own classification.

Instead of now cannibalizing each other in the playoffs with only one team making it to state, all three might be able to do so as the Rockets, Bulls and Chiefs will now reside in Classes 6A, 5A and 4A, respectively

After a heartbreaking 37-35 loss in the 8A title game last year, will Columbus, with new head coach David Dunn taking over, find a way to get back to the final and get over the hump to claim a first-ever championship?

What impact will late coaching changes have on Carol City and Booker T. Washington? Florida Memorial University hired away Tim “Ice” Harris from BTW a few weeks ago as its new head coach and he took Carol City’s Benedict Hyppolite with him. How that impacts the mojo of the two programs will have to be watched.

For the first time ever, large schools in Miami-Dade County, including the likes of Reagan, Sunset, Coral Park and Hialeah-Miami Lakes to name a few, have seceded from the FHSAA and formed their own independent conference. How will it all work out? Will other teams struggling to compete try and jump on the bandwagon as well? Stay tuned.

I could probably go on with a dozen more questions but it’s time to get on with the business of debuting my Preseason Top 20 rankings and preview the top Week 1 matchups — and there are plenty. In my “rookie” year last year I will have to admit, a 449-107 record including postseason is awfully impressive and will be tough to top but we’ll give it a shot.

The top 20

1. Central; 2. St. Thomas Aquinas; 3. Northwestern; 4. Deerfield Beach; 5. Carol City; 6. Columbus; 7. Palmetto; 8. Plantation American Heritage; 9. Chamindade-Madonna; 10. Western; 11. University School; 12. South Dade; 13. Dillard; 14. Booker T. Washington; 15. Plantation; 16. Cardinal Gibbons; 17. Champagnat; 18. Southridge; 19. Miramar; 20. Gulliver Prep

Knocking on the door: Fort Lauderdale, Hialeah, McArthur, Belen, Monsignor Pace, Norland, Doral, Hialeah, Coconut Creek, Piper, Coral Gables

This week’s top games

Belen Jesuit vs. No. 6 Columbus, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Tropical: Evidently due to scheduling conflicts at Tropical, somehow this traditional rivalry got stuck on a Wednesday instead of the traditional Saturday night. But that won’t make things any less intense as the Wolverines, like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football before Lucy picks it up, will try and slay the seemingly unslayable dragon for the first time in program history which is now at 14 tries.

What does Belen running back and University of Miami commit Don Chaney Jr. think? “It will happen Wednesday,” Chaney boldly told the Miami Herald’s Walter Villa last weekend. “I’m not going down without a fight. It’s my senior year. You’d have to break my legs to get me out of that game.”

Sorry Don, while I appreciate your passion, I don’t see it happening. New Explorers head coach David Dunn still has plenty of weapons leftover from last year’s state final team including Dade County’s leading rusher Henry Parrish. Some day, Charlie just might get to that ball and kick it but not yet. BD’s PICK: Columbus 27-13.

No. 16 Cardinal Gibbons vs. No. 3 Northwestern, Friday, 7:30 p.m. (Traz Powell): The first of two in the annual Dade vs. Broward series, the defending 5A champion Chiefs take on the reigning 6A champion Bulls, both now in new classifications.

Northwestern coach Max Edwards has likely been harping on his kids all summer that they can’t afford to get off to the disastrous start they had last season. And while Gibbons head coach Matt DuBoc still has plenty of talent returning from last year’s state title team, gone are the likes of quarterback Nik Scalzo and defensive end Kris Bogle so plenty of holes are left to fill.

Add to that Scalzo’s successor, Brody Palhegyi, was reportedly nicked up in last week’s preseason classic against Boca Raton thus may not be available and this all seems to point to a big Bulls victory. BD’s PICK: Northwestern 30-14

No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas at De La Salle (CA), Friday, 9:30, (ESPNU): St. Thomas walked off the field at Camping World Stadium following last year’s 7A state title game upset loss to Lakeland saying all the respectful things about their opponent but knowing and feeling that the better team probably did not win on that night.

That’s the backdrop for the Raiders as they embark on the 2019 campaign determined to get back to the final and right a wrong.

Ranked No. 10 in the nation (Max Preps Xcellent 25), St. Thomas can make an early statement as the Raiders travel to California for this nationally televised contest against an equally established national power in De La Salle. Even though De La Salle is ranked behind St. Thomas (No. 18), this will still be a chance for the Raiders to make an early season statement and perhaps still move up from their No. 10 spot and ultimately challenge for a national championship. BD’s PICK: Aquinas 31-24.

No. 1 Central vs. St. Frances Academy (MD.), Saturday, Noon, Traz Powell (ESPN): The Rockets come in at numero uno in our preseason Top 20 but to say they’ll be tested right out of the gate would be an understatement.

Not very often can you say that Central is outstacked in talent by an opponent, but that may be the case here as St. Frances brings in a much-earned and deserved No. 2 Max Preps national ranking. The Rockets, ranked No. 9, came out lackluster and mistake-prone last Saturday in what turned out to be a tough come-from-behind win over Cedar Grove (Ga.) in a kickoff classic.

If they do that again on Saturday, St. Frances will blow them right out of Traz on national television. But I’ve been down this avenue before with the Rockets. They live for the big game in front of the big audience so expect Roland Smith to have his troops fired up and ready for a big effort. Will it be enough to spring the upset? I say yes. BD’s PICK: Central 26-24

No. 4 Deerfield Beach vs. No. 5 Carol City, Saturday, Traz Powell (ESPNU): The second game of a big ESPN doubleheader on Saturday looks to be the best matchup of the week in South Florida.

Carol City looked less than sharp in a seven-point win over rival Norland last week in its kickoff classic while the Bucks, led by star running back Jaylon Knight, are looking for big things this year and hoping to get over that state semifinal hump that seems to trip them up so often.

Tough to get a handle on this one as the Chiefs, like Booker T., are dealing with the recent loss of their head coach and Deerfield is eager to prove that it’s a major player in the 8A state championship picture. BD’s PICK: Carol City 21-20.

The rest of the top 20

7. Palmetto vs. Killian, Thursday, 7 p.m., Tropical: The battle for the “Big Cat” trophy doesn’t figure to be much of one as the Panthers are loaded and perhaps ready to make a legitimate run to the state final. BD’s Pick: Palmetto 33-14.

8. Plantation American Heritage vs. Monsignor Pace, Friday, 7:30 p.m.: An off year last year by Heritage standard followed by a couple of key transfers out has AH determined to get back to the top. New Pace coach Mario Perez makes his debut at the place he served as a longtime assistant coach over the last decade. BD’s Pick: Heritage 28-17

9. Chaminade-Madonna at McArthur, Friday, 7 p.m.: The first time these schools, just two miles apart, have met in a very long time. Lions looking to three-peak in 3A and get started here. BD’s Pic: Chaminade 30-13

10. Western at Everglades, Friday, 7 p.m.: Big things are predicted for the Wildcats this season but a stacked defense will only be able to carry a struggling offense so far. BD’s Pick: Western 23-7

11. University School at Pahokee, Friday, 6 p.m.: A tough road opener for the Sharks who have been knocking on the state title game door for a few years and will be challenged to come out of a brutal Region 4 in 4A. BD’s Pick: University 27-20

12. South Dade vs. Doral Academy, Thursday, 7 p.m. Harris Field: Nate Hudson has the Bucs loaded and ready to go again while Doral is looking to bounce back from a sub-par 2018. BD’s Pick: South Dade 34-20

13. Dillard at Piper, Friday, 7: Big things are expected from the Panthers in 2019 but Piper has a nice team as well and could challenge on its home field. BD’s Pick: Dillard 23-16

14. Booker T. Washington vs. Lehigh Acres, Friday, 7:30, Curtis Park: Tornadoes host an out of town team and should get the post-Ice Harris era started in style. BD’s Pick: BTW 38-9

15. Plantation vs. Taravella, Friday, 7 p.m., Coral Springs HS: Head coach Steve Smith has once again put together a nice Colonels squad that will win plenty of games this season. BD’s Pick: Plantation 30-10

17. Champagnat at New Smyrna Beach, Friday, 7:30: A tough road opener for the Lions but coach Hector Clavijo and company play on the road every week so they know how to win these. BD’s Pick: Champagnat 27-16

18. Southridge at St. John’s (Washington D.C), Saturday, 2: The Spartans couldn’t have set up a tougher opener than this one against the nation’s No. 4 ranked Max Preps team. BD’s Picks: St. Johns 34-16

19. Miramar vs. Norland, Friday, 7: A good challenging opener for both teams. Norland looked good against Carol City last week and pulls off the mild upset here. BD’s Pick: Norland 17-16

20. Gulliver Prep. vs. Coral Gables, Friday, 4: Thanks to a few key transfers in from Booker T., coach Earl Sims and the Raiders might have a very nice team jelling together in 2019. Gables will be a challenge and a chance for Raiders to prove themselves early. BD’s Pick: Gulliver 24-20

Other games

WEDNESDAY: Ferguson vs. Miami Springs (Milander), 3:30: Ferguson 20-12; Goleman vs. Reagan (Milander), 7:30: Goleman 15-14

THURSDAY: Miami-Dade: Homestead vs. Miami High (Curtis), 7: MHS 23-21; Edison vs. Jackson (Traz), 7: Jackson 27-21; Mater Academy vs. American (Milander), 7; American 13-10; South Miami vs. North Miami (Ives), 7; North Miami 22-16; Broward: Coral Glades vs. Stranahan (Dillard), 7: Stranahan 23-14; Fort Lauderdale at Flanagan, 7: FTL 34-14; Hallandale at Boyd Anderson, 7: BA 26-21

FRIDAY: Miami-Dade: Varela vs. Westland Hialeah (HML), 3:30: Varela 27-6; Sunset at Hialeah Gardens, 3:30: Sunset 13-12; Palmer Trinity at Boca St. Andrews, 7: PT 21-16; Braddock vs. Coral Reef (Harris), 7:30: Reef 19-17; Southwest vs. Coral Park (Tropical), 7:30: SW 30-12; Hialeah vs. HML (Milander), 7:30: Hialeah 34-13; Krop vs. Miami Beach (Memorial), 7: Beach 17-13; North Miami Beach at Enterprise (AL), 8: Enterprise 35-13; LaSalle at Coral Shores, 7: LaSalle 15-14; Broward: Westminster Academy at Pines Somerset, 4: WA 28-13; Cooper City vs. Ridley (ESPN Wide World of Sports), 4:30: Ridley 27-16; Coral Springs vs. West Broward (Flanagan), 7: WB 27-14; Cypress Bay at South Plantation, 7: CB 20-17; Douglas at Orlando Colonial, 7: Colonial 24-22; Hollywood Hills at Pompano Beach, 7: Hills 33-13; Nova vs. Monarch (Coconut Creek), 7: Monarch 26-21; Miami Christian at Calvary Christian, 7: MC 21-20; Blanche Ely at Northeast, 7: Ely 22-14; Archbishop McCarthy at South Broward, 7: SB 24-13

Have a score you want to get in? Results from how your team did? Email to hssports@miamiherald.com