Miami-Dade high school quarterback rivalry begins early

It's 7 p.m. on a Thursday, and Traz Powell Stadium is buzzing. Helmets crunch and penalty flags fly as two local high school teams — the Northwestern Bulls and the Norland Vikings — slug out a preseason game. In the stands, a thousand fans are fixated on Northwestern quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the top college recruit in the state, as the team works its way toward the end zone.

But not Rakeem Cato, QB of archrival Miami Central. His attention is elsewhere — a rainbow slushy, to be precise — as he climbs the stands. Cato is Bridgewater's chief competition for all-state honors this year. Tonight, he and a dozen other Central players are here to scout the team they knocked off in the playoffs last year, only to lose the next game. This year, Northwestern is likely Central's biggest roadblock to its first state title.

Central stomps and shouts with joy at every Viking touchdown. But with 2:36 left on the clock, the Bulls are down only by seven. After a Norland punt, Northwestern gets the ball at its own ten-yard line. "Bridgewater played the whole game and didn't do nothing!" an adult in the stands yells into his cell phone. "Number one in the state? That shit's suspect."

But Bridgewater answers, marching the Bulls back down the field. With only 12 seconds left in the game, he throws a perfectly weighted pass over the defense for a touchdown. Cato and the other Central players stand up and begin leaving in disgust, pausing just long enough to see Northwestern complete the two-point conversion: Bulls win by one.

Twenty-four hours later, it's Cato's turn. Under the lights of Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, the thin six-footer throws for 210 yards and three touchdowns as the Rockets cream Blanche Ely 50-6. If preseason stats counted, he would have just broken the county record for career passing yards. Walking off the field, Cato is already raring for next week. "I don't care who we play. Every game is serious," he says. "We could line up against a bunch of babies in diapers — it's still on."

Bridgewater and the Bulls have been warned. The two teams — and two quarterbacks — will meet October 9.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.