The year was 1966.
Coral Gables High was a football juggernaut and had just been declared national champions two seasons before.
But in a historic upset, the Cavaliers lost their season opener to a school that had never beaten them before: Columbus High.
With a shocking 13-6 win, the Explorers put themselves on the South Florida map, a landmark win that they’re still talking about today, 50 years later.
“I will never forget the joy I felt when we returned home to the Columbus campus and seeing the crowd that was there to congratulate us,” said Doug Yount, a member of that Columbus team.
“They made a tunnel for us to walk through and gave us lots of pats on the back and hugs,” Yount said. “I remember going through it and then grabbing a teammate and saying, ‘That felt good, let’s go back and go through it again.’ ”
The memories of that showdown from a half-century before will provide part of the backdrop when the two schools hook up Thursday in a regional playoff game at Tropical Park.
“I will always consider it one of my greatest honors to have been a part of that team,” said Al Schrader, a member of the ’66 team who now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Schrader was part of a contingent of players from the ’66 Columbus team who gathered for a reunion on Oct. 27 when the Explorers knocked off Coral Gables again, 14-7.
In that renewal, Joshua Jobe intercepted a pass and ran it back 55 yards for the deciding touchdown. Jobe saluted the ’66 team by stopping in front of their section of the bleachers.
“It was my way of paying respect to those alumni,” Jobe said.
“It meant a lot to the team that they were there supporting us.”
One of the former players on hand was John Miller, who caught the first pass in the ’66 game. Miller recalled how, after their upset, his father, John Miller Sr. — a Columbus teacher at the time — woke him up the next morning and showed him a copy of the Miami Herald. A photo of his son making the catch was on the front cover.
“Although we were outnumbered and out-forced, we weren’t intimated because we were so well trained,” Miller said.
There were only 34 players on that Columbus team. Coral Gables had three times that many players.
“We were instilled with the belief that you can achieve anything you set your mind to if you’re willing to work hard for it,” said Miller, who went on to play at Rutgers. “That game was the beginning of a tradition of excellence for the Columbus football program. It put us on the map.”