Columbus football coach Chris Merritt loves the atmosphere of his team’s rivalry with Belen Jesuit.
Not for the great food at the customary tailgates outside FIU Stadium prior to each annual meeting, but for the big-game environment the approximately 12,000 spectators created Friday night.
The Explorers responded with a championship-level performance.
Columbus’ talented trio of seniors Daryl Chestnut, Jesus Wilson and Lorenzo Woodley combined for seven touchdowns in a 49-3 victory over Belen that marked the most lopsided outcome in the series’ history.
Columbus (1-1) remained perfect against Belen in eight all-time meetings whether preseason or regular season.
“I love the high pressure environment this puts our kids in every year at this point in the season,” Merritt said. “These are the kinds of big crowds they will play in front of the rest of the season when they play the Central’s and Northwestern’s.”
Woodley scored the most with three touchdown runs, including the first and last of the onslaught. He finished with 96 yards on nine carries and scored on a 3-yard touchdown that sparked a 28-point second half.
Woodley said the Explorers weren’t solely motivated to beat Belen (0-2). They were also eager to get past the sting of last week’s 38-28 loss to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas — a game in which they had an 11-point lead slip away.
“We came out prepared as a unit and worked very hard this week,” Woodley said. “If we keep playing like this, I don’t think anyone can stop us.”
For the second week in a row, Chestnut showed his ability to break open a close game on one play.
With less than a minute remaining in the half, Chestnut turned a simple handoff from quarterback Tucker Beirne and was barely touched after bursting through Belen’s defense and racing 80 yards for a score that put Columbus in front 21-3 at the half.
Chestnut made a similar play last week against St. Thomas when he broke a 77-yard run before halftime. Chestnut finished with 151 yards on six carries and scored two touchdowns.
“I was just hoping he’d get 6 yards on that play, honestly,” Merritt said. “Turns out he gave us six points.”
Jesus Wilson also created plenty of mismatches against Belen’s defenders. Wilson, an FSU commitment, caught three passes for 63 yards.
The most spectacular came late in the first quarter when he adjusted to an underthrown pass, caught it and then stretched the final 2 yards to the end zone for the first of his two touchdowns.
“If you play us only to stop the run and leave single coverage outside, you’d better have one great cornerback back there to cover him,” Merritt said. “One on one, [Wilson] is good enough to beat just about anyone in the state.”
Columbus’ defense recovered three fumbles, including two timely ones by Keaon Roberts and Marcus Davide that led to touchdowns.
Columbus committed two turnovers and 100 yards in penalties. If the Explorers can correct those errors, they could be one of the most dangerous teams in the state come playoff time.
“We can be a very good football team when we don’t turn the ball over,” Merritt said. “We had eight turnovers in the first six quarters we played. We didn’t turn it over in the second half and we scored 28 unanswered points.”American 39, HML 0: