Halfway through the season, the Central Rockets weren’t sure if they truly had a starting quarterback.
They know they’ve got one now in Jerrod Thomas.
The 6-2, 185-pound senior, who shared the job with sophomore Tijuane Morton through Central’s first six games, stayed on fire Friday night. He threw for a season-high 302 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Rockets to a 41-21 drubbing of Naples at Traz Powell Stadium in a Class 6A state semifinal.
“I was striving for 380,” said Thomas, who has thrown for 1,283 yards, 14 touchdowns and no interception during Central’s seven-game win streak. “I guess I fell short. But you shoot for the stars, you land on the moon.”
The Rockets aren’t headed to the moon. But they are headed back to Orlando to play in a sixth consecutive Class 6A state championship game. Belle Glade Glades Central (seven trips from 1982 to 1988) and Pahokee (six trips from 2003 to 2008) are the only two programs in state history to achieve that feat.
The Rockets (11-2) will face a familar foe a week from Saturday afternoon at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando: No. 1-ranked Seffner Armwood (14-0).
It’s the fourth time the Hawks will take on the Rockets in the state title game. Central, winners of three consecutive state titles, beat Armwood in the final each of the past two seasons.
On Friday night, the Hawks crushed Cantonment Tate 53-19 to raise their season scoring average to 38.1 points per game. But they will face a talented Rockets defense that’s as good as it gets.
Against Naples, Central’s starters allowed only two touchdowns. The Eagles, coached by former American High coach Bill Kramer, came in averaging 47.6 points per game. Naples scored its last touchdown 2:47 left against the Rockets’ backups.
“The kids just came out and played from the start of the game to the finish,” Rockets coach Roland Smith said. “If we continue to do that, we’re going to be fine.”
Naples trailed 13-7 midway through the second quarter when quarterback Kieran Digiorno hooked up with Tennessee-bound running back Carlin Fils-Aime for a 67-yard touchdown. But the play was called back on an illegal block.
Soon after, Central’s Chris Williams returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, and the momentum of the game swung to Central’s side for good.
“I would have never made it without my teammates,” Williams said. “They made some big blocks.”
Senior receiver Kahmanie Carter had a 79-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring for Central and then scored on a 42-yard reception on the final play of the first half. That put the Rockets comfortably ahead 27-7.
Thomas, who later made a few plays with his legs in the second half including a key fourth down, said all of his receivers have been working hard to get on the same page with him. It’s clear they all are.
“He’s doing a tremendous job for us and when we have him playing like that it’s going to be hard to beat us,” Smith said. “Coach [Alexander] Snipes, my offensive coordinator, is doing a tremendous job with him. He’s reading his keys and taking what the defense is giving us. That’s why we’re being so successful right now.”
CEN-Carter 79 pass from Thomas (pass failed)
NAP-Theork 19 pass from DiGiorno (Nunez kick)
CEN-Salomon 60 pass from Thomas (Lopez kick)
CEN-C. Williams 65 punt return (Lopez kick)
CEN-Carter 42 pass from Thomas (Lopez kick)
NAP-Byrd 8 pass from DiGiorno (Nunez kick)
CEN-Brinson 13 pass from Thomas (kick blocked)
CEN-J. Cook 50 run (K. Thomas pass from Morten)
NAP-DiGiorno 1 run (Nunez kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- NA: DiGiorno 7-24, Carbonaro 11-55, Fils-Aime 20-69. MC: Morten 1-0, Thomas 7-27, Smith 7-30, Mike 12-58, Cook 4-74.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- NA: DiGiorno 8-29-1, 123. MC: Thomas 14-24-4, 302.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- NA: Theork 4-27, Fils-Aime 1-35, Byrd 3-61. MC: Thomas 1-0, Brinson 2-23, Green 3-27, Salomon 2-70, Carter 7-182.