It had been some time since Miami Central played such a meaningful game against longtime rival Miami Northwestern.
Two weeks ago, a loss to Carol City put the Rockets’ playoff hopes and its streak of three consecutive state titles and five state finals appearances in jeopardy.
Central never lost faith in what it does best.
Led by a suffocating defense that totaled seven sacks, three of which came from FSU commit Keir Thomas, the Rockets shut out Northwestern 16-0 in front of a crowd of more than 5,000 at Traz Powell Stadium on Saturday night.
Central (6-2, 2-1) remained in a tie atop District 16-6A with Carol City (6-2, 2-1). But with only one district game left against last-place Hialeah-Miami Lakes, the Rockets needed the victory badly in a district in which they are now one of four teams along with Northwestern (3-4, 1-1) and Norland (3-3, 1-1) that has only one district loss.
“Our kids responded well and we knew we couldn’t afford to lose another game,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “We want to defend our title. Our goal is always to win the district. All these schools have great coaches and great kids. It’s all even now so we just have to go out and play.”
The Rockets beat Northwestern for the ninth consecutive time to win the Commissioner’s Cup — the trophy that began to be awarded in 2009 to the winner of the rivalry game. Thomas was named the game’s defensive MVP and Central quarterback Jerrod Thomas was named the offensive MVP.
Along with Keir Thomas, Marlon Gerald and Donovan Thompson, an FIU recruit, each had two sacks.
Central kept Northwestern’s offense in check most of the game, keeping the Bulls to minus-4 total yards until its final drive of the game after the outcome was no longer in doubt.
The Rockets’ offense, which has been inconsistent throughout the season, appeared to show signs of improvement.
Senior quarterback Jerrod Thomas completed 10 of 23 passes for 148 yards and a late 12-yard touchdown pass to freshman James Cook to put the game out of reach.
Thomas managed the game much better than early in the season, not turning the ball over and finding open receivers on key downs.
His third pass of the game in the first quarter was a perfect lob deep down the middle of the field that Jernard Phillips brought down for a 44-yard gain.
“We had a great week of practice and we had to forget about that last game against Carol City,” Thomas said. “It starts with our offensive line. Once they started clicking and got things going we started getting our timing down.”
Phillips was Thomas’ top target Saturday night, catching three passes for 69 yards. Central ran the ball effectively as well, finishing with 103 yards as a team as Kenio Mike found the end zone early in the second quarter.
Northwestern had a chance to turn the game in its favor on the final play of the first half when Taurus Dotson intercepted a pass by Thomas near his own end zone and raced down the sideline as time expired in the half. Central running back Kywan Smith chased him down and tackled him just before he could score a touchdown.
The play was nullified, however, by a pass interference call resulting in an untimed down before halftime. Central capitalized with a 27-yard field goal by freshman kicker Jordan Nadelman to take a 10-0 lead into the break.
“We weren’t a team early in the season, but now I’ve got players making plays for me,” Thomas said. “The district race is crazy, but I’d rather be the team on top.”
CEN-Mike 3 run (Nadelman kick)
CEN-FG Nadelman 27
CEN-James Cook 12 pass from Thomas (Nadelman kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- NW: Frazier 1-(-21), Atwell 11-(-14), Knight 1-(-2), Lane 6-(-1), Henry 2-3. CEN: Thomas 8-(-4), Cook 3-8, Murat 3-24, Mike 5-25, Smith 8-50.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- NW: Atwell 9-23-0, 74. CEN: Thomas 10-23-0, 148.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- NW: Moore 1-11, Davis 1-11, Frazier 1-14, Henry 2-16, Knight 4-22. CEN: Smith 1-(-7), Green 1-12, Cook 2-14, Perriman 1-17, Cook 2-43, Phillips 3-69.