Anthony Jones’ academic situation kept him ineligible and off the field a year ago when Central won its third state championship behind his cousin, Mr. Florida Football, Dalvin Cook.
On Saturday afternoon in the Citrus Bowl, Jones led the charge to secure Central’s fourth ring and third in a row with a 24-10 victory over Seffner Armwood in the Class 6A final.
“I talked to Dalvin last night, and I actually talked to him [Saturday] morning,” Jones said. “He said, ‘We’ve been here before. You know what it takes to win a championship. We’ve been in these moments. We pushed sleds, ran on track for these.’ It just all paid off [Saturday].”
With the score tied at 10 in the fourth quarter and facing a third-and-6, Jones took off from the Wildcat formation, swept around the right side and cut past Armwood linebacker and Wisconsin commit Jordan Griffin, racing to the end zone from 21 yards out to put the Rockets ahead for good with 4:51 left.
Jones finished with 199 yards on 29 carries and scored three touchdowns as Central (14-1), ranked No.6 nationally by USA Today, joined Miami Booker T. Washington as the only South Florida teams to win three consecutive state titles and beat Armwood for the second consecutive season in the 6A final.
Jones put the game out of reach with a 20-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds left that came one play after an interception by senior safety Adam Mattison.
Jones (6-0, 185), an FIU commitment, was only able to practice last season with the team but received a state championship ring for his contributions on the scout team.
“The vision — God gave me the ability to see everything,” Jones said. “It all came to light. It was great, just putting the team ahead and winning another 6A championship. We’re a second-half team. We’ve been down in games all year. But that’s nothing. We sharpen up our game in the second half. No one will beat us.”
Central became the only Dade team to win four state titles in a five-year span and was already the first in the county and fourth in state history to make five consecutive appearances in the state championship game. The others are Belle Glade Glades Day (seven), Pahokee (six) and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (five).
The state record for consecutive state championships is four — shared by Tallahassee North Florida Christian and Live Oak Suwanee.
Central joins Booker T., Miami Northwestern, Coral Gables and Miami Carol City as the only schools in Dade with four state titles or more in the Florida High School Athletic Association’s playoff era (1963).
The Rockets won their 12th consecutive game Saturday and have won 38 of their past 40 games with their only losses coming against Booker T. Washington during that span.
Central coach Roland Smith became the fifth Dade coach to win three or more state titles, joining Nick Kotys (four at Coral Gables), Walt Frazier (three at Carol City), Billy Rolle (three combined at Northwestern and Miami Killian) and Tim “Ice” Harris (three at Booker T. Washington).
“Going to state one year is phenomenal, but any time you can three-peat and go five straight times, I’m so glad to be a part of this deal,” said Smith, who is in his second year as Central’s coach. “It’s a testament to the coaching staff that was here before me and the one we have now for maintaining that thing, and we’re going to continue maintaining that thing.”
The Rockets’ run couldn’t have continued without another clutch performance by their defense.
Central’s pass rush added four more sacks to its season total of 83, including three timely ones after Armwood (14-1) had taken a 10-7 third-quarter lead.
Syracuse commit Keivonnis Davis had two sacks, and FIU commit Fermin Silva and Marshall commit Marquis Couch each had one.
Davis’ first sack jarred the ball loose from Armwood quarterback Noah Johnson, allowing junior Keir Thomas to recover with 3:35 left in the third quarter. The momentum-changing play led to Beymar Piraquive’s game-tying 35-yard field goal.
“This is a priceless moment,” Davis said. “This is something I’ll remember 10 years from now. We had to come up big for our team and that’s what it’s about. Moments like this live on for 10 or 15 years. I just want to break down in tears right now.”
Central could continue to garner more accolades in less than two weeks.
Smith said Central has accepted an invitation to compete in the inaugural Burger King State Champions Bowl Series to be played Dec.27 at Florida Atlantic University Stadium in Boca Raton.
Teams from the states of Florida, Utah and Washington received permission from their respective states’ athletic associations to participate. The schedule for the event has not been finalized, but Booker T. Washington is also expected to participate in the event.
“We’re very excited it’s in South Florida so we don’t have to travel,” said Smith, whose team had to win four games away from Dade County this postseason. “We’ve been telling the kids about it, telling them it’s a possibility, so they’re excited about it to keep proving week in and week out that we’re the best team.
“We like taking on all challenges, and we said we want to take on the best team in the nation.”
MIAMI CENTRAL 24, SEFFNER ARMWOOD 10
CEN - A. Jones 2 run (Piraquive kick)
ARM - Hofrichter 40 FG
ARM - McNeal 18 pass from Johnson (Hofrichter kick)
CEN - Piraquive 35 FG
CEN - A. Jones 21 run (Piraquive kick)
CEN - A. Jones 20 run (Piraquive kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- MC: Thomas 5-(-4), Smith 1-10, Witherspoon 1-15, Miller 12-116, Jones 29-199. SA: Snead 1-(-1), McNeal 1-1, Rivera 2-3, Johnson 11-19, Holloway 10-25, Collins 4-26, Thorton 3-28. Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- MC: Thomas 5-8-0, 59. SA: McNeal 0-1-0, 0, Johnson 8-23-2, 67. Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- MC: Joyner 1-3, Jones 1-9, Phillips 3-47. SA: Holloway 2-1, Pimenta 2-25, McNeal