Allowing three points early in the game doesn’t feel right for Flanagan.
It’s insulting to a defense that has at least six starters with Division I commitments or offers, a slap upside the helmet of a unit that entered Friday with a 91-0 scoring advantage over its first three playoff opponents.
“We don’t even like teams getting past midfield on us,” said safety Josh Metellus, a Michigan recruit.
But as painful as those early points were for this perfectionist “Dirty Birds” first-team defense, that’s where it ended. Flanagan rolled to an easier-than-it-sounds 30-17 victory over Columbus at Tropical Park in a Class 8A state semifinal on Friday night.
Never miss a local story.
Flanagan led 30-3 before allowing two fourth-quarter scores when the game was virtually over. For the season, Flanagan has a first-half scoring advantage of 269-6.
Columbus’ chance on Friday came and went quickly.
The Explorers’ first two drives were largely wasted — they got three points when they could have had 14.
On its first drive, Columbus reached Flanagan’s 30-yard line. But Columbus quarterback Alex Ros threw a pass right down the middle of the field where only Metellus was standing.
“I knew they had to go deep,” said Metellus, who grabbed the interception. “We showed them blitz. They tried to check high. I knew they had to come to [the receiver I was tracking]. So I just stayed over the top and waited for the quarterback to try to make the play.”
On Columbus’ second drive, receivers Daniel Courtney and Orlando Hidalgo made impressive catches, putting the Explorers once again deep in Flanagan territory.
But Ros made another crucial mistake, overthrowing wide open tight end John Michel, who was alone cutting across the middle of the end zone.
Columbus settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead, but the Explorers were shut down after that.
“They are too good defensively to make the kind of critical errors we were making,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said. “We did something — whether it was a blown assignment or penalty — that kept killing us.”
Ros, who had been intercepted just three times all season, was picked off twice by Flanagan. The other interception was by cornerback Sanford Samuels, a four-star recruit.
“We showed different stuff,” Metellus said, “and they didn’t know what to do.”
Another factor that played in Flanagan’s favor was its hard hitting. Linebacker Fabian Gordon had the first huge knock, smacking Columbus running back CJ Henderson 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
From there, the hits got heavier, and Columbus’ fight seemed to diminish.
Flanagan quarterback Kato Nelson threw three touchdown passes but — unsolicited — he credited the defense for the win.
“Our defense did their job,” Nelson said. “They put us in great field position.”