Terry Jefferson wasn’t one of the biggest names in Friday night’s showdown between the top two ranked teams in the country.
But Jefferson made the play that may end up being remembered for securing Miami Booker T. Washington’s first national championship.
Jefferson’s 75-yard interception return for a touchdown with 9.9 seconds remaining secured a 28-17 victory for the Tornadoes against Miami Central before a sold-out crowd of 7,500 at Traz Powell Stadium.
Booker T. (2-0), the No.1 ranked team in the nation by USA Today and MaxPreps, dealt Central (1-1), ranked No. 1 by Rivals.com and PrepNation.com, its first loss to a Miami-Dade County team since 2008.
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The Tornadoes scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to rally from a four-point deficit led by quarterback Treon Harris, who finished 12 of 17 passing for 129 yards and threw two touchdown passes.
The game, which had a playoff-like atmosphere, was the first meeting between teams from the same county ranked No. 1 by multiple national polls.
“It was time to make a big play and I was glad I was able to do it,” Jefferson said. “We had to rip their hearts out, and I made the play to do it.”
Booker T. avenged a 37-26 loss to Central last season that felt particularly frustrating to the Tornadoes after they let a 19-3 halftime lead slip away.
“Their backs were against the wall and it was time to stop them,” Jefferson said. “We weren’t letting this slip away like we had done last four years.”
Jefferson, a straight-A student, capped a defensive stand the Tornadoes needed to hold off the Rockets, who advanced the ball to the Booker T. 25-yard line before penalties set them back to the 50.
With time winding down, Central was forced to pass and was unable to utilize its two biggest weapons — running backs Joe Yearby and Dalvin Cook — to complete a possible comeback after getting the ball back with less than two minutes left.
“It’s a big win for us because for the past three years Central has been a team kind of like [Seffner] Armwood used to be for us, and we have never been able to get over the hump,” Booker T. coach Tim “Ice” Harris said.
“I’m so proud of our kids because they were able to rally after some tough times in the first half.”
Yearby finished with 128 yards rushing on 21 carries and scored an 11-yard touchdown that gave Central its only lead at 14-7 before halftime.
Cook scored on a 30-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 7, but finished with only 59 yards on 11 carries.
Harris didn’t have a huge game statistically, but once again looked comfortable and made the Tornadoes hard to stop.
Harris tied the score in the third quarter when he connected with Deltron Hopkins on a 59-yard touchdown pass.
Trailing 17-14 in the fourth, Harris led another scoring drive that he capped with a 3-yard touchdown run, scoring on a keeper to the far sideline.
Harris had never been able to beat Cook and Yearby even in Optimist leagues growing up.
“I love playing against them because they’re both great competitors,” Harris said. “All I had on my mind today was to get the win.”
What’s on Booker T. Washington’s minds now is to protect the No. 1 ranking.
The Tornadoes face Miami Carol City on Wednesday at Traz Powell and still have another game with national attention Oct. 4 when they travel to Las Vegas to play Bishop Gorman High in a game that will be televised on ESPN.
“This is something we really wanted,” Harris said. “This is what high school experience is all about. Being No. 1 in the country is something we don’t want to give up. I think the last 24 minutes of this game showed we love being at the top of the charts in the country and we’re going to fight to protect that.”
•Champagnat 22, Westminster Christian 7:
Led by a solid defensive effort and some big plays running the ball, the Lions picked up a quality victory at the Warriors’ home field.
The Lions (2-0) ran for 151 yards as a team and scored three rushing touchdowns while shutting out Westminster in the second half for the victory.
Franklin Labady led Champagnat with 15 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore quarterback Kato Nelson threw for 150 yards on 11 of 21 attempts, converted two 2-point conversions and ran for a 38-yard score that gave the Lions an 8-7 lead in the second quarter that they wouldn’t relinquish.