In a place that has served as nothing short of a dungeon for Miami-Dade County teams throughout the years, including Edison nine years ago, somehow, some way, the Miami Central Rockets overcame a nightmarish start and stormed from behind to defeat previously unbeaten Naples 48-33 in a Class 6A state semifinal on Friday night.
Playing before an overflow, standing-room-only crowd topping 10,000 at Staver Field, the Rockets trailed 24-7 midway through the second quarter and appeared to be in big trouble.
But, thanks to some big-play passes from quarterback Keith Reed and the running back tandem of Joseph Yearby and Dalvin Cook, the Rockets rallied behind a second half blitz that left the hometown crowd stunned but delighted a large Central contingent that made the trip across Alligator Alley.
With the win, Central advances to its third consecutive state championship game and will face Gainesville on Dec. 15 in Orlando for the 6A title.
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“Just a great job of keeping our poise after things did not go very well early on,” said Central coach Telly Lockette. “I knew our kids would find a way to respond in the second half and they did. We have a lot of respect for [Naples coach] Bill Kramer and his program and certainly recognize what a tough task we had out there tonight.”
After Naples scored to take a 33-28 lead with 10:24 left in the game, the Rockets (11-2) put on their blitz. Perhaps the biggest play of the night came on their ensuing drive when — facing a seemingly impossible third-and-33 at their own 46 — Reed dropped back and launched a deep ball to a streaking Tavius Brown, who reeled it in at the 10.
Three plays later Yearby, who finished with 98 yards on 17 carries, scored from 3 yards to give the Rockets a 34-33 lead with 7:54 left.
After forcing a three-and-out, Central took over at midfield and Yearby, playing quarterback out of the wildcat, showed he can throw the ball as well when he found Da’Vante Phillips down the sideline for a 40-yard gain to Naples’ 15. Cook, who finished with 155 yards, bolted up the middle from the 15 and it was 41-33 with five minutes left.
“We’ve played tough games on the road all year long and nothing ever fazes us,” Cook said. “We knew we didn’t play well in the first half but we’re a close-knit group and knew we could come back from the bad start.”
The Rockets could not have had a more disastrous start. After Naples (12-1) drove 80 yards in six plays on the opening drive to grab a 7-0 lead on quarterback Kilton Anderson’s 33-yard touchdown run, the Golden Eagles caught Central napping with a successful onside kick. The Golden Eagles capped the 43-yard drive with a 5-yard rushing touchdown by Anderson.
But the Rockets managed to strike back quickly when, on their second play from scrimmage quarterback Keith Reed hit Dalvin Cook with a simple flat pass that Cook, after eluding a pair of Naples defenders, tight-roped down the sideline turning it into a 78-yard touchdown pass.
After a Naples field goal midway through the second made it 24-7, the Rockets started to gain some momentum. On third-and-16 from his own 47, Reed hit Phillips with a 53-yard score.