On the next play, Devonta grabs the ball and cuts left and then right. But a Camden player catches his legs. Then another comes from behind and slaps the ball out of his hands and onto the turf. The Wildcats recover. Devonta winces in anger as he jogs off the field. Camden kicks a field goal to go up 32-21.

"I was trying to do something extra, to make people miss, and they stripped the ball," Devonta says later. "I wasn't there when the team needed me the most."

When Central gets the ball back, his troubles continue. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Devonta spins 360 degrees and picks up 12 yards on one play but then loses eight on the next.

Running back Devonta Freeman (center) takes a handoff from quarterback Rakeem Cato.
Michael McElroy
Running back Devonta Freeman (center) takes a handoff from quarterback Rakeem Cato.
Miami Central wide receiver Durell Eskridge catches a pass in practice.
Michael McElroy
Miami Central wide receiver Durell Eskridge catches a pass in practice.


Amid the desperation, Durell talks his way onto the kickoff coverage team. "Special teams had given up two touchdowns already," he explains. "Coach had nothing to lose putting me in, and I was going crazy sitting on the bench." But his first two trips onto the field are unremarkable: He's blocked from making a tackle the first time. The second kick flies into the end zone for a touchback.

Soon, though, Central ties the game 35-35 with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter. But the Rockets can't stop Camden's running backs. Four minutes later, the Wildcats' Boudreaux once again busts into the end zone. "We're used to putting up points on other teams," Devonta says. "But every time we scored, they came right back."

After the touchdown, Durell lines up to receive the kickoff. But the ball sails over his head, landing instead in the hands of a freshman running back. Durell lays down a perfect block, and the freshman punches through the crowd, across midfield, and past the Wildcats' hapless kicker to tie the game for the final time.

Trotting off, Durell finally breaks into a smile. He may not be catching touchdowns, but he's back to helping his team win. There's 5:27 left, though, and Durell's grin soon disappears under a towel. Devonta paces. Sure enough, Camden's two running backs take turns eviscerating Central's defense. The Wildcats reach the 11-yard line, and they let the clock reach 2.6 seconds before calling time-out.

Camden's kicker walks onto the field. Durell takes his spot across the line of scrimmage. In his mind, he can already feel the ball on his fingertips. One last shot at redeeming himself. One last shot to impress the scouts. One last shot to save Central's perfect season and national championship.

Camden snaps the ball. Durell steps on his teammate's back and leaps. But the kick is perfect, and Durell is only so tall. The ball soars through the uprights without ever coming close to his outstretched hands.

In Liberty City, there are few second chances. The gunshots and early funerals are final. But in football, the scoreboard resets after each game. Seven days after losing to Camden, Miami Central travels to DeSoto, Texas, to face Dallas Madison, a perennial playoff contender in the nation's fiercest football state. In the clean afternoon heat, they roll to victory, 48-6. Devonta runs for 130 yards and two touchdowns, and Durell catches four passes for 51 yards and a score of his own. Then they nail Miami Beach 41-6 and later crush Miami Springs 70-0, with Durell returning a punt 85 yards to the end zone. Their perfect season and national title hopes may be gone, but the Rockets are far from done.

View our Miami Central "Ghetto to Gridiron" slide show.

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