Vanguard plays tough in loss to Miami Central

Knights compete on even terms with state powerhouse

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Posted August 18, 2023 | By Mark Pinson/Special to the Gazettte
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to indicate that Vanguard’s next game is an away game.

Playing one of the top teams in the state and country in a preseason game is a quick way to find out just how good you are.

Miami Central High, the Class 2S defending state champions, got a 5-yard scoring run from Jayden Ford and a pair of field goals by Kristian Hodges, and the Rockets held on for a hard-fought 13-6 win over Vanguard on Friday night at Booster Stadium.

Vanguard, which scored on a 7-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Fred Gaskin to wide receiver Dallen Ponder to pull within 7-6 at the end of the first half, had the ball at midfield and a chance to win with less than 5 minutes left in the game.

But the Knights failed to move the ball, were forced to punt and Miami Central ran out the clock with its strong rushing attack to preserve the physical victory.

Despite the loss, Vanguard proved it could play at a high level against a quality opponent.

“You could see all the hard work that we put in during the summer coming together tonight,” said Knights veteran coach Edwin Farmer. “We’ve definitely got some things to clean up offensively and defensively. I thought the defense played great except for the first drive of the game. You could tell early in the game that we could play with Miami Central. Maybe no one else in Marion County believed that, but we did. We had an opportunity to pull out the win but came up a little short.”

Miami Central, which went 14-0 last season, is considered one of the best teams in the country again this year. The Rockets took the opening kickoff and marched 68 yards in eight plays with Ford breaking a pair of tackles on his way to a 5-yard touchdown run to cap the drive. Ford rushed for 24 yards on six carries. Hodges drilled the extra point to give the Rockets a quick 7-0 lead with 7:39 left in the first period.

Neither team threatened again until the Vanguard defense forced a turnover with senior defensive back Cameron Powell recovering a fumble at the Miami Central 33-yard line with 1:03 remaining in the first half.

Vanguard capitalized on the excellent field position as Gaskin, a talented senior who was harassed all night by a relentless Rockets pass rush, scrambled for 26 yards and then connected with Ponder on a slant pass for the touchdown. Gaskin completed 13 of 21 passes for 143 yards with no turnovers. The extra point attempt by Jaxson Lee was blocked and the Knights trailed 7-6 at the half.

Central extended its lead on its first possession of the second half as Hodges booted a 32-yard field goal to put the Rockets up 10-6 midway through the third quarter.

Vanguard took possession and moved the ball inside the Central 10-yard line, but several penalties and back-to-back sacks forced the Knights to punt.

Central put together a six-play, 93-yard drive with Nicholas McCall ripping off a 51-yard run. McCall is a powerful runner who gained 120 yards on just seven carries. The drive stalled and Hodges came on to kick a 30-yard field goal to extend the Rockets lead to 13-6 with 5:17 remaining to play.

Vanguard took possession at its 20 and moved the ball to midfield, but a third-down incompletion ended the drive and the Knights punted with hopes their defense could stop Central and give them one more opportunity to pull off the upset.

The Rockets ran the ball seven consecutive times, picked up a pair of first downs and ran out the clock to seal the victory.

“I love our kids effort,” coach Farmer said. “We just need to keep working hard to improve and get ready for our next game.”

Vanguard is back in action on Thursday night. The Knights open the regular season in an away game against Erie, Colorado.

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