Miami Central coach Roland Smith looked at film of DeMatha Catholic and saw a style of football he sees every day in practice.
“They’re a team that’s stacked up a lot like we are,” Smith said. “They like to run the football and they’re big and physical up front on the lines. We have to control the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense in order to be successful Saturday.”
Great backfields and great offensive and defensive lines aren’t the only thing Central and DeMatha Catholic have in common.
They both enter the season in the hunt for a potential national championship.
Their game at noon Saturday at Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex in Landover, Maryland, will decide who remains in the hunt.
DeMatha Catholic is ranked No. 5 by USA Today and is ranked in the top 15 in two other polls. A win over Central, a four-time state champion over the past five seasons, could vault the Stags into the top five.
Central is ranked No. 2 nationally by both USA Today and MaxPreps behind California powerhouse Concord De La Salle. The Rockets have won their past three early-season out-of-state games including victories at Hoover in Alabama and Stephenson in Georgia.
Smith said the Rockets have a couple of factors in their favor this season they didn’t have prior to their trip to Alabama in 2014.
Central had the chance to play a preseason game — one it dominated last Friday as it beat Royal Palm Beach 48-6. The Rockets also have an experienced quarterback in senior Jerrod Thomas, who threw for 1,584 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions on 112 of 193 attempts last season.
“It was great to get the kids out on the field against a good team and see them perform the way they did,” Smith said. “Jerrod has more than a year in our system now so hopefully both things should help us avoid making some of the mistakes we did last year when we played Hoover.”
Central will need Thomas to be sharp against a DeMatha defense led by Penn State commitment Shane Simmons, a 6-4, 227-pound defensive end who is ranked as the No. 13 overall recruit by ESPN.
The Rockets will look to establish its offense behind a stout offensive line anchored by junior Navaughn Donaldson, a Miami commitment, and junior Mershawn Miller.
The depth of their running game is a component Central looks to capitalize on all season.
The Rockets have had great duos in their backfields in recent years, first with Joe Yearby and Dalvin Cook and last year with Cedric Miller and Anthony Jones.
Central can go four to five backs deep this season as it spreads carries between seniors Keino Mike and Corey Roberts, juniors Kaywan Smith and Kh-lajuwan Murat and freshman James Cook, Dalvin’s younger brother. Cook (5-10, 185 pounds) is also going to play a big role on special teams.
The Rockets’ defense, led by numerous major FBS prospects such as Jamel Cook and Keir Thomas, will have to account for DeMatha junior running back Anthony McFarland, who is being recruited by FSU, Baylor, Alabama, Georgia and Michigan, and is rated the No. 60 overall Class of 2017 prospect by ESPN.
McFarland will run behind DeMatha’s stellar offensive line that is anchored by senior guard Terrance Davis, a Michigan, Georgia, Alabama, FSU and UF target.
“We’re used to facing a big line in practice every day so that should prepare us for this match-up,” Smith said. “We know we have to stop the running game, but they are very good at passing the game.
“We have an experienced group on our team. There was a lot of noise before the Hoover game last year directed at us. We always let them know it’s a business trip and not to get caught up in any of that.”