Even before they knew for sure, Columbus football players didn’t hide their preference on who they wanted to face in the regional finals.
Just moments after beating Coral Gables, the Explorers broke their team huddle by shouting “Beat the K.”
Columbus has been playing some of its best football of the season since losing its regular-season finale to Killian three weeks ago.
Killian, which looked impressive again beating South Dade, is out to prove that win was no fluke.
Columbus is out for revenge.
• Region 4-8A final — Columbus (8-4) vs. Killian (10-1) at 7 p.m., Fri. at FIU: Killian won that earlier meeting by erasing a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit on some big plays by its defense. That same unit completely shut down South Dade this past week.
Even though the Bucs were missing star Antwan Cordy (season-ending knee injury), there wasn’t much more they could have done against a Killian squad playing inspired and tough football all season.
Columbus’ running game mixed in with a few timely passes here and there is clicking. But more important, its defense is creating turnovers and turning up its pass rush. The Explorers will need that effort again to disrupt Killian’s ground game.
Columbus’ backfield led by Lorenzo Woodley and Oshton Armstrong the past two games should get a boost with Daryl Chestnut getting another week to rest his sore ankle.
This one promises to be an emotional and intense game with the season on the line this time around, and one big play late could decide it.
Andre’s pick: Columbus 20, Killian 17.
• Class 4A state semifinal — Booker T. (11-1) at Cocoa (10-2): And a year later, we’re back to this matchup. Except this time, the Tornadoes will have to beat Cocoa at its home field if they are to get another shot at the state title.
Last year, Booker T. pulled off a dramatic 20-14 win at Curtis Park that broke Cocoa’s three-year state championship run.
Talented athlete Tarean Folston is back for the Tigers and still leading a high-powered offense as he did last week when he ran for 151 yards on 22 carries in a 35-7 win against Orlando Jones. Cocoa’s defense is also solid as it totaled several sacks against Jones.
But Booker T. has outscored two playoff opponents 128-0. And although Cocoa is more talented than Gulliver and North Broward Prep, what the Tornadoes are doing on offense is impressive. Booker T. is averaging 51.6 points per game this season.
And outside of a first-quarter hiccup against Monsignor Pace nearly a month ago, its starting defense hasn’t allowed a score in seven of its past eight games.
Andre’s pick: Booker T. 28, Cocoa 17.
• Region 4-5A final — Jackson (7-4) at Belle Glade Glades Central (8-4): The story of the playoffs has been the surging Jackson Generals and their two-week sweep of Plantation American Heritage and Norland.
Here comes an even tougher challenge for quarterback Quinton Flowers and company — beat Glades Central in Belle Glade.
Glades Central senior quarterback Will Likely had 172 total yards and two touchdowns as he helped the Raiders rally to beat Merritt Island last week. Likely is dangerous out of the Wildcat formation along with senior running back David Bailey.
But the Generals have been strong on defense of late. The difference is the environment.
Winning in “The Muck” has been historically difficult for Dade teams. Only Norland led by Duke Johnson pulled off the feat last season. The big question is whether or not this Glades Central team that started 0-4 but has won eight in a row is as good as typical Raiders teams of the past.
Jackson is a state championship contender. But if it wins this one, consider it a favorite.
Andre’s pick: Jackson 21, Glades Central 20.
Region 4-6A final — Central (9-2) at Melbourne Palm Bay (10-2): Strong defensive efforts led the Rockets to a pair of 17-7 wins against Palm Bay and Daytona Beach Mainland last year to reach Orlando. If Central is to beat the Pirates again, and on the road, it needs to continue to be as stingy as it was against Northwestern last week.
Palm Bay is playing in its third consecutive regional final after big plays including a blocked punt for a touchdown made the difference last week in a 21-14 win against Palm Bay Heritage.
This is where Da’Wan Hunte, Ahmad Thomas, De’Vante Duclos, Deatrick Nichols and Devyn Reid just to name a few keep Central’s path to Orlando on course.
Andre’s pick: Central 24, Palm Bay 14.
Class 2A state semifinal — Naples First Baptist (12-0) at Dade Christian (11-0): The Crusaders are on the verge of making it to Orlando for the first time.
Dade Christian contained Kelvin Taylor just enough to squeak by Glades Day last week. Another solid rushing game arrives this week as First Baptist brings senior Chris Dorrill, who had 231 yards and five touchdowns last week in a 56-28 win over Tampa Carrollwood Day.
First Baptist, a four-year program, is another tough challenge. But Dade Christian has found a way in tough spots all season, and at home it may have one more special performance left.
Andre’s pick: Dade Christian 21, First Baptist 17.
NOTE: All games scheduled for Friday at 7:30 p.m. unless noted.
Andre’s record — Last week: 5-1; Season: 250-74.