Miami-Dade High Schools

Andre C. Fernandez’s playoff preview: Miami Central faces tough road to Class 6A title

Miami Central’s Olin Cushion III intercepts a pass against Hoover (Alabama) on Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014.
Miami Central’s Olin Cushion III intercepts a pass against Hoover (Alabama) on Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. MARK ALMOND

No South Florida team has played in the Citrus Bowl more often in recent years than Miami Central.

To get back there, the Rockets will have to put in more miles — and face arguably a tougher road — than any other local team left in the playoffs.

Central played its lone possible home game two weeks ago when it smashed Boynton Beach and star quarterback Lamar Jackson on its way to a 49-6 win.

This past Friday, the Rockets crossed the Broward County line and beat Hallandale 35-19.

The next stop on the tour for the Rockets is a trip to Palm Bay and a familiar Heritage team they beat in the playoffs last season. If they get past the Panthers, a potential road trip to undefeated nationally ranked Daytona Beach Mainland could be next. And then of course, a trip back to Orlando for the fifth consecutive year if all goes well for the boys in green.

▪ Region 4-6A final — Miami Central (11-1) at Palm Bay Heritage (8-3): The Rockets cruised to a 54-3 win at Traz Powell Stadium against the Panthers in this same round last season.

So why isn’t it going to be that easy this time around?

See Heritage junior quarterback Daeshawn Mills.

A 348-yard rushing … yes, I said rushing … performance by this dual-threat quarterback propelled Heritage to an impressive 30-28 win over host Naples.

Central hasn’t had trouble against Melbourne-area teams, beating Palm Bay in the two years prior to last year’s rout of Heritage.

And talented quarterbacks aren’t anything new for Central’s defense, which found a way to handle Hallandale’s Tyler Huntley in the second half this past Friday a week after making Lamar Jackson look feeble in Round 1.

Throw in more power running from Cedric Miller and big plays by Anthony Jones in the backfield, and maybe some contributions from quarterback Jerrod Thomas in the passing game, and Central can clinch its sixth consecutive trip to the state semifinals.

Andre’s pick: Central 38, Heritage 17.

▪ Class 4A state semifinal — Booker T. Washington (12-0) at Cocoa (11-1): And we’re back for what’s become the annual showdown for two of the state’s best programs.

In Booker T.’s case, it is still one of the nation’s best entering the game and is ranked No.4 nationally by both MaxPreps and USA Today.

But the Tornadoes have to start playing like it for all four quarters again if they are to survive what will be their toughest test by far of this postseason.

Booker T. has won this matchup each of the past three seasons, with the past two coming by a combined 90-23.

Don’t expect this one to be anywhere near as lopsided even if BTW wins again.

The bid to become Miami-Dade County’s first modern-era three-peat state champion and the county-record 38-game winning streak are definitely in jeopardy against a Tigers squad familiar with Booker T. and is making its eighth consecutive state semifinal appearance.

Cocoa sophomore quarterback Bruce Judson faced the Tornadoes last season and is one of many on the squad that remember the pain of losing 49-10 to the eventual national champions.

And Booker T. has a lot of new faces this season who are playing in a pressure-packed game of this magnitude for the first time.

The veterans such as junior running back Mark Walton will have to step up and lead the way to make sure the dynasty continues past Friday.

Andre’s pick: Booker T. 31, Cocoa 30.

▪ Region 4-8A final — Columbus (11-1) vs. Killian (12-0) at Southridge: Points have come at a premium when facing these two this season.

Columbus hasn’t allowed an offensive point in its past four games and nine points in its past five. Killian has six shutouts, allowed no touchdowns in its past three games and only 12 or more points three times this season.

Killian has become a good running team on offense with sophomore Bentavious Thompson (1,067 yards and 14 touchdowns on 161 carries) leading the way. Columbus’ offense looked balanced against Gables, establishing the run early for an effective passing game. This has the potential to go down to the wire.

Andre’s pick: Columbus 10, Killian 9.

▪ Region 4-7A final — Royal Palm Beach (11-1) at St. Thomas Aquinas (11-1): Since putting its season back on track with a win over Miramar, Aquinas has won its past nine games by a combined score of 465-20.

Royal Palm Beach, led by UM-committed linebacker Charles Perry, might narrow the margin of victory a bit this week and represents Aquinas’ toughest opponent in the past two months.

Longtime former Belle Glade Glades Central coach Willie Bueno has done a great job leading Royal Palm Beach to only its second regional final. But the Wildcats are about to become the latest team to get rolled by the Aquinas machine.

Andre’s pick: St. Thomas Aquinas 35, Royal Palm Beach 10.

▪ Region 4-5A final — Cape Coral Island Coast (10-2) at American Heritage (9-3): It’s a homecoming of sorts for Island Coast coach Wayne Blair, the former coach at Boyd Anderson. In his first season with the Gators, Blair has guided them to their second regional final appearance.

But battle-tested American Heritage must feel like it is in cruise mode in this postseason. The defending Class 5A state champs won’t be challenged much this week either.

Andre’s pick: American Heritage 42, Island Coast 14.

▪ Region 3-8A final — Wellington (11-1) at Flanagan (12-0): The Falcons were in an overtime struggle at Deerfield Beach for the second year in a row. But an inspired Dirty Birds defense made sure Flanagan survived this time, beating Monarch with a huge stop on the 1-yard line.

The Falcons face a prolific quarterback for the third consecutive week as they host Wellington and senior Shannon Patrick (3,108 yards and 47 touchdown passes).

Flanagan is up to the challenge, especially back at home in front of its raucous fans. Andre’s pick: Flanagan 38, Wellington 21.

NOTE: All games at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Andre’s Dade record — Last week: 5-0; Season: 269-57 (.825).

Andre’s Broward record — Last week: 4-0; Season: 222-47 (.825).