'Canes face tough challenge in Rockets' ground game
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 11:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 11:55 p.m.
While it has taken Gainesville 32 years to get back to a state championship game in football, this will be Miami Central's third straight trip.
Two years ago, the Rockets beat Orlando Dr. Phillips (42-27) to capture the Class 6A title. A year ago, Central fell to Seffner Armwood (40-31) for the championship.
On Saturday, the No. 4 Rockets (11-2) and No. 1 Hurricanes (14-0) will meet for the first time at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando. Both teams are looking for their second state title.
Central, which opened the season ranked No. 1 in the country and in 6A, has won 10 straight since starting 1-2 with losses at nationally ranked Grayson (Ga.) and at Bradenton Manatee.
“Everytime we line up at Miami Central, hopefully we are trying to play for the championship,” said Rockets coach Telly Lockette. “Our kids, as young as they are, were put to the test early on in the year and it helped us down the road to see what type of team we have. Our kids have played tremendous ball.”
Central is led by two outstanding junior running backs in Joseph Yearby (Florida State commit; 1,322 yards, 18 TDs) and speedster Dalvin Cook (Clemson commit; 1,373 yards, 19 TDs). In its 48-33 win at No. 2 Naples in last Friday's state semifinal, Cook accounted for four touchdowns, including scoring runs of 80 and 48 yards, and on a 78-yard screen pass for Central's first score.
“Yearby is the slasher and runs between the tackles and Dalvin is the guy who gets the outside pitch and is going to outrun everybody,” Lockette said. “They are similar but different in many ways.”
Miami Northwestern coach Stephen Field, whose team lost twice to the Rockets this season, including in the regional semifinals (34-7), said Cook is one of the best players he has ever seen.
“Both of their backs are great, but Cook is special,” Field said. “They are very physical and you have to play hard four quarters to beat them. They make great adjustments and are well coached.”
Central quarterback Keith Reed has has thrown for 1,259 yards (250 of that against Naples) with 15 TDs and has only been picked off twice this season.
The Rockets have seven players who have committed to Division I colleges, including three on defense: linebacker/safety Ahmad Thomas (Oklahoma), linebacker Marquez Hodge (Syracuse) and cornerback Da'wan Hunte (N.C. State).
Against Naples, Central rallied from a 24-7 deficit in the second quarter and outscored the Golden Eagles 34-9 in the second half. Prior to Friday's game, the Rockets defense had just given up 16 points in three playoff wins.
“Definitely the most athletic team I have ever seen in high school in regards to combination of size, strength and skill,” said longtime Naples coach Bill Kramer. “To see that much talent on one team is rare. They made some fantastic plays against us. Cook plays on both sides of the ball and doesn't get tired. He was a real difference-maker. He is just a dynamic player.”
Prior to Central, Lockette was the offensive coordinator at district-rival Northwestern from 2004-2007. The Bulls won back-to-back state 6A titles in 2006-2007.
“Our keys to victory have always been since day one to stay focused, have good character and play hard,” he said. “No matter who you are playing, if you can do those three things you are going to be successful.”
The Rockets are looking to avenge last year's loss in Orlando with their second state title in three years.
“It is a great lesson being on both sides of the fence,” Lockette said. “It gives them more edge to want to win it. It is not just getting there, you have to win it.”
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