The Christmas season is upon us and that must mean a few things are happening as they always do at this time of year. Hoards of humans scurrying around like field mice searching for the perfect morsel to offer their loved ones–those same crowds then crowd-ing the highways turning the collective holiday cheer into discontent forgetting all about their Yuletide responsibilities. Armload vs. Central in the state finals must be happening, too. Wait–what? Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like De-cem-ber at the very least because these two are once again set to rumble in the house of acidic fruit this Saturday for the Class 6A State Championship.
Armwood (14-0) and Miami Central (11-2) have squared three of the last four seasons at this stage of the postseason with the Rockets holding a 3-0 lead in the record books–(one of those is a win by the Hawks in 2011 40-31, but was forfeited) in those games. With the two teams now facing each other for a fourth time in the last five finals’ played this weekend, it’s pretty easy to see why familiarity will either breed contempt–or success.
Both schools represent the classic battle of heavyweights where styles make fights. They’re the Tyson-Holyfield or Ali-Frazier match-up on the gridiron that has been decided by a 12-round festival of haymakers in 2011–71 total points scored and Armwood winning on the field before their eventual forfeiture. There was the game in 2013 that was basically a first knockout with the Rockets blasting off on Armwood 52-7. And finally there was last years’ slugfest where the game was in the balance before Central scored late to pull away 24-10.
This season brings something different–even though the tale of the tape is eerily similar. There’s a different vibe to Saturday’s contest since both squads have sorta-kinda “flown under the radar” for most of the season. It’s weird, but it’s almost like these two were already anointed to play in this contest REGARDLESS of what the season was going to look like up until this point. It doesn’t matter if both were going to have to replace several key figures from their squads last year–or that both squads would be in what we would call “rebuilding” mode–using that term very loosely of course. This was bound to happen. Scary thing is–this could happen POSSIBLY for another two years straight if things fall into place. It may sound crazy now, but don’t say we didn’t “warn” the others.
Let’s look at the tape, shall we?
One of the areas where you could say there’s a “noticeable” difference–if there’s such a thing with these two titans. The Rockets have a total of 3,850 yards on the season, but have done it–and somewhat uncharacteristically at that–with almost perfect balance this season. Usually, Central has an out-of-this-world running back that’s there to handle the vast majority of the workload. This season, it’s been RB by committee. Central’s rushed for 1,956 yards this season while throwing for 1,894 yards. Armwood’s posted 5,334 yards this season. They’ve rushed for 3,331 yards–which is generally what they do anyways–and then they’ve thrown for 2,003 yards. Suffice it to say–this one has–(if you own stock in this particular stat) the ability to go up-and-down all afternoon.
The Hawks bring Darrien “Pickles” McNeal to serve his classic dual-threat skill set to the competition. McNeal stands at just 5-foot-10, but he can sling it and has proven that putting up 1,600+ yards through the air this season completing 88-of-162 and 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions. His most dangerous asset is his legs. McNeal has zipped pass defenses to the tune of 1,160 yards and TWENTY more touchdowns on the ground. The Rockets have a more traditional pocket passer in the form of Jerrod Thomas. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound QB has thrown for 1,336 yards completing 89-of-163 passes for 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. The numbers from the pocket as you can see are nearly identical. Does the knockout blow come via McNeal’s ability to run?
The wide receivers:
Armwood’s two leading wide receivers in terms of production are Trevor Laurent (5-9/170) with 60 receptions for a total of 648 yards and four touchdowns along with with Erin Collins (6-0/190)–who’s caught 16 balls this season for 409 yards and five touchdowns. Central counterpunches with a stud at 6-foot-3, 205-pounds in USF commit Darnell Solomon–but the interesting part is Solomon is only the second-best in terms of numbers this season. Solomon has caught 23 passes for 398 yards and six touchdowns this season. Jernard Phillips (5-10/180) is the Rockets leading receiver with 24 receptions for 451 yards and seven touchdowns.
The running backs:
The Hawks can boast two-1,000 yard rushers this season with the aforementioned McNeal and with Brian Snead’s 1,206 yards and 17 touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder is just a junior and is starting to attract national attention. Central’s leading rusher is Kywan Smith (5-9/190) and is a junior himself. Smith has rushed for 590 yards and five touchdowns on the season. It should be noted that freshman you see for Central this Saturday is the little brother of Dalvin. Yes–that’s James Cook (5-10/180) and he’s going to be a good one.
The fellas in the trenches will ultimately dictate the pace of this game. Pressure bursts pipes–and if the QB’s are under duress–or running free of obstacles–it’s because someone’s winning the battle up front. Armwood’s OL averages 6-foot-2.5, 286-pounds against Central DL that averages 6-foot-1.5, 242-pounds. That’s a full inch and 44 pounds up front in favor of the Hawks. When the Rockets lineup on offense, their front averages 6-foot-2, 286-pounds to Armwood’s 6-foot-2,247-pounds. That’s nearly the same differential in terms of what each gives up although the Hawks list a 3-4 versus Central’s 4-3.
Central’s backers are slightly undersized in terms of height, but are nearly identical in terms of weight. The Rockets average 5-foot-11.5, 198-pounds at the LB spot while the Hawks check-in at an average of 6-foot-0.5, 200-pounds. Armwood’s Kyheem Campbell is a tackling machine with 126 tackles this season and could be a difference maker in this game. He’s also posted 10 sacks and caused four fumbles among the other acts of debauchery from his position.
The Rockets hold the only other “significant” difference between the two teams aside from their total offensive production. Central’s secondary averages 6-foot-0, 180 pounds while the Hawks secondary averages 5-foot-11, 171-pounds. Beware though–safety Mehki Lapointe has picked off 10 passes this season and the Hawks have 21 as a team, so regardless of the size advantage on paper, we could see plenty of impact punches landed from the boys on the back end of the defense.