Last week, No. 6 Miami Central was playing Miami Lakes but practicing for this Friday’s opponent, Miami Northwestern.
“It’s for the district championship,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “Any time you play the top team in your district, you want to be able to control your own destiny in the playoffs.”
A lot of high school leagues claim to be the best in the country. The Trinity League in Southern California has two Super 25 teams in No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana) and No. 15 St. John Bosco (Bellflower).
New Jersey’s Big North United is traditionally a powerhouse league. Georgia’s four-team 1-AAAAAAA is always solid. The Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference in Indianapolis has produced the past six state champions in the state’s largest classification, and includes No. 14 Ben Davis (Indianapolis).
Miami’s Class 6A-District 16 may be the strongest of all of them from top to bottom this season. Central (7-1) and Northwestern (5-1) have dominated everyone they’ve played with the exception that both lost to No. 2-ranked IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.). The third-place team in the district is Carol City, the defending 6A state champion.
IMG coach Kevin Wright says the interesting battle will be Central’s powerhouse running game, led by James Cook, against Northwestern’s stingy defense (7.3 points allowed per game).
“I think it will be strength against strength,” Wright said. “Miami Northwestern’s defense is probably the best defense that we’ve seen in the last couple of years. They are really good up front, they have SEC corners. I think they have 11 D-1 guys on defense. Central comes at you with five Division-I running backs and a really good plan with what they do. They have so much big-play potential. Miami Central’s defense is pretty good as well.”
Smith said that might be short-changing the Rockets’ defense.
“I think my team may be offended by that, defensively,” he said. “We have a good defense and offense, but hey, it’s going to be a good one. I’m concerned about us playing assignment football, making sure we are where we are where are supposed to be and containing their quarterback (Tutu Atwell, a Louisville commit), which is key. He is is very fleet-footed and can make things happen when things break down.”
It has been an interesting season for the Rockets. They ended a 55-game winning streak for Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), last year’s Super 25 champion, but there were marooned in Las Vegas for 10 days because of Hurricane Irma. In their next game back, they lost 24-15 at IMG. While the extended stay in Nevada disrupted the team, it did have a positive side effect.
“That made us stronger as a team,” Smith said. “I think these guys have a genuine love for one another and they play for another. They are excited about playing these last two (regular-season) games.”
Northwestern defeated Central 45-44 in double-overtime last season to win the district and end the Rockets’ reign as four-time state champion. To make things more interesting, there are plenty of ties between the two schools. Bulls coach Max Edwards was Smith’s defensive coordinator when the two were at Northwestern and for a couple of seasons at Central. Edwards’ son, Malik, is a senior defensive end for the Rockets.
“He’s played against his dad two times and he’s 1-1, so he wants to be 2-1,” Smith said. “He’s about team first. We always tell our kids, if your mother or dad is on the other team and you have to knock them down to win the game, that’s part of the game.”