Although just a season opener, Friday night’s matchup between Miami Columbus and Homestead South Dade provided drama fit for the postseason.
A botched snap on the go-ahead field goal with 37 seconds left doomed the Explorers as the Buccaneers won a thriller 12-10 at Harris Field.
Both Class 8A teams were listed in the Miami Herald’s preseason top 20, with the Buccaneers at No. 13 and the Explorers ranked 14th.
Last season, Columbus reached the state semifinals, and South Dade fell in the regional final.
“This is what you get in Game 1,” South Dade coach Nate Hudson said. “Both teams are going to look a little sloppy and try to find little ways. I know it’s tough. It’s an emotional win.”
Senior quarterback Khalil Render and senior wideout C.J. Worton connected for a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winning jump ball from 9 yards out with 10:43 to go in the fourth quarter.
When the Buccaneers (1-0) failed to add on an insurance score later in the fourth because of a goal-line stand by the Columbus defense, the Explorers (0-1) took over from their own 1-yard line with 5:19 left.
Junior quarterback Tucker Beirne orchestrated a drive, connecting with three different receivers and completing five passes. Beirne finished 13 for 21 with 208 yards and one interception.
But two crucial penalties stalled the possession, setting up senior Sasha Kelsey’s potential game-winning kick. Earlier, Kelsey had given Columbus a 3-0 lead with 40-yarder in the first quarter.
Sophomore holder Alejandro Ros mishandled the snap for the 22-yard field goal as Buccaneers pursued the football.
“It was the little things — dropped balls, missed tackles,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said. “It’s fundamental football of inexperienced kids that are young. We just have to keep getting better week by week.”
Down 3-0 early on in the first quarter, South Dade answered with a five-play, 72-yard drive.
Four consecutive rushing plays — junior Johnnie Hankins had two for 25 yards and Render had two for 12 yards — controlled the clock for South Dade. Hankins finished with 90 yards on 15 carries.
Render’s 41-yard strike to Worton put the Buccaneers on top 6-3 with 3:37 remaining in the first.
Senior Oshton Armstrong’s 1-yard rushing touchdown capped the Explorers’ second drive of the second half, handing them a 10-6 lead with 1:24 left in the third.
However, their next two possessions would end in turnovers, the first of which set up Worton’s second touchdown catch with a short field. The second changed field position.
“I was on a knee, had my eyes closed praying to God the whole time,” Worton said of the missed field goal. “I prayed to him five times [Friday]. I was hoping he would hear one of them. I’m guessing he heard the last one.”