Call it redemption.
Call it revenge.
Either way, Miami Columbus secured both Friday night against Miami Killian.
Jesus Wilson’s 95-yard return on the opening kickoff set up the Explorers’ first score and set the tone for a dominant 36-19 victory in the Region 4-8A final at FIU Stadium.
Columbus (9-4) avenged a 21-17 loss to Killian in its regular-season finale by scoring the game’s first 22 points and later hanging on thanks to key stops.
The Explorers secured their second consecutive trip to the Class 8A state semifinals and will travel to Weston to play Cypress Bay next Friday night where they will attempt to clinch their first trip to the state final since 1982.
“We talked a lot that it was more about redemption than revenge,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said. “We feel the universe is back in balance now in south Dade. We still feel that south of the [Miami] Airport that we’re still the team people have to go through.”
Lorenzo Woodley has a third consecutive impressive playoff game running the football for Columbus. Woodley finished with 123 yards on 19 carries and scored three touchdowns.
Columbus forced three turnovers, and a costly muffed punt by Killian contributed to the 22-0 halftime deficit for Killian (10-2).
Three of those miscues kept Columbus’ offense on the field and in Killian territory the entire first quarter.
“We fought back hard and I hate to see this happen because for a lot of these kids this will be the last time they see each other,” Killian coach Corey Johnson said. “When you turn the ball over as much as we did we can’t win. It wasn’t our game plan. It wasn’t a hustle or desire thing or a matchup problem. It was just turnovers.”
Wilson’s dynamic return set up Daryl Chestnut’s 5-yard touchdown run on Columbus’ first play for a 7-0 lead. Columbus’ offense would then struggle to find the end zone, but kicker Matt Freixa kept piling on the points as he connected on 3 of 3 field-goal attempts.
Defensive end Patrick Stout recovered a fumble that set up Freixa’s 39-yard kick. Joe Rodriguez’s interception off a deflection set up a 28-yarder by Freixa early in the second quarter.
“It was something you can’t climb out of,” Johnson said. “Everything was inside our own 20. It’s hard to play defense like that.”
Junior cornerback Trumane Washington forced a pair of turnovers that sparked a comeback attempt by the Cougars, who made their first regional final appearance since 2008. Killian outscored Columbus 13-0 in the third quarter.
Washington recovered a fumble that set up David Felipe’s 28-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Anthony Olivencia to give Killian its first points. On the ensuing drive, Washington intercepted Columbus quarterback Tucker Beirne and returned it to the Explorers’ 22. That set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Jaquan Johnson on the final play of the third quarter. Columbus blocked the extra point keeping it a two-score game at 22-13.
Woodley gave Columbus the momentum back with several hard runs including a 23-yard touchdown that put Columbus in front 29-13.
Miguel Andrillon cut Columbus’ lead to 29-19 midway through the fourth with a 6-yard touchdown run. But Columbus again kept Killian from making it a one-possession game as Adrian Campbell intercepted Nigel Dillard’s two-point conversion pass.
Woodley put the game away with a 19-yard touchdown run with 37 seconds left.
“We came out on fire again, but again had a lull in the third quarter,” Merritt said. “But our defense played lights out and our running game took over late.”