Columbus put together a gauntlet of early-season games to gauge whether it was ready to contend for a state title.
Hurricane Irma swept through South Florida and appeared to change those plans.
It actually gave the Explorers an even bigger test.
Other than usual temporary power loss and tree debris, Columbus’ school escaped the storm without major hindrance.
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But Thursday night, the Explorers began a brutal stretch of three games in a nine-day span against some of the state’s best.
Columbus cleared the first hurdle by securing a narrow 21-20 victory over District 14-8A rival Miami High on its home field.
The Explorers have only three days to get ready for five-time state champion Booker T. Washington, whom they will host on Monday at 5 p.m.
And that game is four days before Columbus (3-1) hosts defending Class 6A state finalist Lakeland Lake Gibson on Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m.
Miami High (2-1) is dealing with a similar obstacle as it will take on longtime nemesis Coral Gables on Monday at Tropical Park and Killian the ensuing Friday, also at Tropical.
The Greater Miami Athletic Conference has rescheduled 16 games overall that were postponed during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma for this coming Monday and three more on Tuesday.
Columbus coach Chris Merritt, whose team beat rival Belen Jesuit last week in its first game since the storm, believes it’s an experience that will strengthen his club long-term.
“Those early games would have really shown us where we were at as a team so the hurricane hurt us,” Merritt said. “We just have to adapt and overcome.”
Senior Zachary Castano, who recovered a fumble early in the second half that led to an 18-yard touchdown run by Henry Parrish Jr. that cut Miami High’s lead to 14-10, said he’s ready for the grind leading up to their next couple of games.
“My D-line gave me the hole perfectly to get a shot at getting that ball,” Castano said. “We have practice on Saturday and Sunday this week so we know we need to work our butts off all weekend to be ready.”
▪ Gary Cooper, a 6-2, 230-pound tight end, made arguably the biggest play in Columbus’ win by running 11 yards on a fake punt for a first down on the Explorers’ eventual game-winning drive. Moments later, quarterback Anthony Arguelles hit a wide open Kalani Norris (who had seven catches for 134 yards) for a 55-yard touchdown pass to put the Explorers ahead for good.
▪ Miami High senior running back Johnny Ford returned a kickoff 95 yards moments after Columbus took its first lead of the game with 3:21 left in the fourth quarter. Ford also broke an 80-yard touchdown run in the first half and finished with 143 yards overall on 17 carries.
▪ After a penalty following Ford’s touchdown, Columbus senior Robert Crockett blocked the ensuing extra point. Crockett also had an interception earlier in the game.