High School Sports

Andre C. Fernandez: South Florida’s teams will sweep state finals

So how dominant have Miami-Dade and Broward County teams been at state in recent years?

Thanks to Booker T. Washington, the two counties have a chance to win at least four state championships combined in the same season for the fourth consecutive year.

Miami Central is seeking to join Booker T. among the elite group of teams that has won four state titles in a row. The Rockets are already one of only three schools to advance to six consecutive state finals.

St. Thomas Aquinas can add to its South Florida-best eight state titles and win back-to-back titles for only the second time in its tradition-rich history.

And although Flanagan is making its first trip to state, the Falcons are sporting one of the toughest and stingiest defenses seen in the area in some time.

Miami Herald sportswriter Andre C. Fernandez catches up with Devin Bush Sr. and four of his offensive stars before Saturday night's Class 8A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Dec. 8, 2015. Video by Manny Navarro / Miami Herald

▪ Class 8A state championship — Flanagan (11-2) vs. Kissimmee Osceola (13-1), 7:07, Saturday: The “Dirty Bird Nation” has still not allowed a first-half touchdown (six points overall) and has allowed only 83 points all season.

Behind its flexbone offense, Osceola has run for 5,404 yards, led by University of Virginia commitment Laderrien Wilson (215 carries, 1,982 yards, 28 touchdowns). Along with sophomore Malcolm Davidson (1,181 yards, 11 TDs), senior Marcus Edwards (813 yards, seven TDs) and Tennessee State commitment Nazayah Brown (799 yards, 11 TDs), Osceola has four running backs with nearly 800 rushing yards or more.

Even Flanagan’s ever-confident coach Devin Bush Sr. acknowledged Monday that he is worried about the matchup against Osceola, which also has an edge in playoff experience. Osceola has been to at least the state semifinals each of the past three seasons. The Kowboys made it to the Class 7A final in 2014, where they lost to St. Thomas Aquinas 31-0.

Flanagan’s offensive line, which is led by seniors Isaiah Murray, Natrone Ray and Kessy Desir and juniors Marcus Etienne and Jamar Lambert, will have its hands full. If they can protect quarterback Kato Nelson and help establish a running game, Flanagan should be able to counterpunch enough on offense and carry it to a state title. Andre’s pick: Flanagan 24, Osceola 17.

Miami Herald sportswriters Manny Navarro and Andre C. Fernandez look ahead to Friday and Saturday's Class 8A, 7A and 6A state championship games at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando featuring Miami Central, Flanagan and St. Thomas Aquinas. Dec. 8, 2015.

▪ Class 6A state championship — Miami Central (11-2) vs. Seffner Armwood (14-0), 1:07, Saturday: It has become a tradition in Class 6A. Central and Armwood will meet for the third consecutive season and fourth time in the past five years. The two teams have combined to win the past five 6A titles.

Central can win its fourth consecutive state championship, which would put it in a group of four teams along with Booker T. Washington (2012-2015), Tallahassee North Florida Christian (1998-2001) and Live Oak Suwannee (1987-1990). The Rockets are already the first Dade team to advance to six consecutive finals and third statewide, along with Belle Glade Glades Day (1982-88) and Pahokee (2003-08).

To get the job done, the Rockets will have to contend with a veteran Armwood offense that returned eight starters from last season. Roughly half of the Hawks’ roster endured Central’s 52-7 rout in the 2013 final and last year’s 24-10 loss to Central.

Armwood quarterback Darian McNeal (5-10, 172 pounds), a highly touted junior, has run for 1,160 yards and 20 touchdowns and passed for 1,626 yards and 15 touchdowns with only four interceptions. McNeal paces Armwood, which is averaging 38 points per game, along with sophomore running back Brian Snead, who has totaled 1,206 yards and 17 touchdowns on 166 carries.

The quarterback that could really influence this game is Central’s Jerrod Thomas, who has completed 45 of 84 passes for 860 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in these playoffs. The Rockets’ receivers, even without junior Jernard Phillips (broken foot), have stepped up as Darnell Salomon, Kahmanie Carter, Carmoni Green and Treyvon Brinson have combined for 85 catches, 1,404 yards and 16 touchdowns. Andre’s pick: Central 28, Armwood 24.

▪ Class 7A state championship — Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (12-1) vs. Viera (10-4), 7:07 p.m. Friday: After a difficult season in which 13 starters have been injured at one point or another, the Raiders aren’t exactly limping to the finish line.

Aquinas keeps finding ways to win by adjusting to every situation. Its running game dominated for three playoff games, and last week the Raiders balanced things out with quarterback Jake Allen throwing for 214 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to beat Braden River.

The last obstacle standing in the way of Aquinas’ second championship repeat is upstart Viera, which had not even won a playoff game before this season. The Hawks endured tough losses to powerhouses such as Allen (Texas), Cocoa, Palm Bay and Lakeland Kathleen that they’re hoping will prepare them for a physical and deep team like Aquinas.

Viera’s spread offense, led by quarterback Hayden Kingston and receiver prospect Tre Nixon, is averaging 36.1 points per game. But Viera has not been tested as it will against Aquinas. Andre’s pick: St. Thomas 38, Viera 14.

NOTE: All games at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Andre’s record – Overall postseason record: 34-6; Dade (Last week): 2-1 (.750); Season: 271-59 (.821); Broward (Last week): 1-1 (.500); Season: 237-54 (.814).

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