In a weekend of well-attended rivalry games, the annual Belen Jesuit-Columbus once again drew its customary festive crowd atmosphere and a crowd of more than 8,000 to FIU Stadium.
And as has been the norm for nearly a decade, Columbus continued to dominate.
Columbus put together a stellar defensive performance that led to a 37-0 shutout — the first time it has blanked Belen in the series since playing regular-season games.
The Explorers (1-1) remained perfect against Belen (0-1), moving to 9-0 in the series.
“We used to be perceived as the big kid on the block playing the little brother when this series started,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said. “There’s no more of that because [Belen] is an 8A school now. This was a big victory for us because we’re both in the same class.”
Columbus balanced the defensive effort with a solid performance from junior quarterback Tucker Beirne, who completed 13 of 21 passes for 258 yards and hooked up three times with senior receiver Sasha Kelsey for touchdowns.
The most impressive came late in the first quarter when Columbus was backed up near its end zone.
Beirne play-faked and fired a well-timed pass down the middle to Kelsey, who beat his defender by a step, caught it and raced 95 yards for a touchdown that put Columbus in front 16-0.
“We have a lot of young players that [had not] experienced victory yet, so to get this kind of win is a big thing for us,” Beirne said. “Our offense is always going to be successful with coach Merritt, and we are clicking right now with our new players and getting the timing down.”
Kelsey finished with five catches for 147 yards.
“This is two weeks in a row that [Beirne] is carrying us on his shoulders, and he’s starting to make the right reads and feel more comfortable,” Merritt said. “It’s great to see [Kelsey] put together this kind of performance, because this is his year.”
Columbus’ defense allowed 93 total yards and forced a pair of turnovers, including an interception by junior Zack VanDemark. Senior Nick McBeath, an FIU commitment, and junior Leif Fernandez each had a sack.
“Our game plan was to get up on them early,” Merritt said. “I can’t say how proud I am of those guys, and our coaches do such a great job with those guys and have them ready to go.”
Fernandez also made the game’s first big play on special teams.
Belen was forced to punt on its first possession, but a high snap sent Jorge Powell scrambling to get the loose ball near his end zone. Fernandez blocked Powell’s desperation attempt, and the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
After regaining possession in Belen territory, Columbus scored its first touchdown when Beirne found Kelsey for an 11-yard touchdown.
Senior running back Oshton Armstrong ran for 70 yards on nine carries and broke a 21-yard touchdown run before halftime to give the Explorers a 23-0 lead. Backup quarterback Andres Fernandez capped the scoring with a 20-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter that forced a running clock.
BELEN JESUIT 0
COL-Safety. Punt blocked out of end zone
COL-Kelsey 11 pass from Beirne (Kelsey kick)
COL-Kelsey 95 pass from Beirne (Tolgyesi kick)
COL-Armstrong 21 run (vanEerdewijk kick)
COL-Kelsey 7 pass from Beirne (Tolgyesi kick)
COL-Fernandez 20 run (Tolgyesi kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- COL: Rasul 6-(-1), Williams 1-5, Beirne 1-9, Fernandez 2-25, Donaldson 4-36, Armstrong 9-70. BEL: Matos 1-(-5), Battle 1-2, Barrial 2-4, Robaina 1-4, Pola 2-6, Placeres 3-8, Pinto 3-10, Neptune 7-15, Silvestry 10-33.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- COL: Beirne 13-21-1, 258. BEL: Pola 1-10-1, 7, Matos 1-2-0, 9.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- COL: Maloney 1-17, Ibarria 1-29, Williams 6-65, Kelsey 5-147. BEL: Neptune 1-7, Battle 1-9.