Fireworks lit up the sky at Cypress Bay High late Friday night.
But its football team only needed two plays to get its own show going.
Led by a pair of early long touchdowns by running back Matt Dayes and wide receiver/defensive back Alex Montgomery, and another stellar performance by its defense, the Lightning dominated visiting Miami Columbus 33-13 in a Class 8A state semifinal.
A decade after the Weston public school opened, Cypress Bay (12-2) secured its first trip to the state finals, and will play Apopka next Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
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“For the players and the coaches this is great, and in a moment like this it makes it all worthwhile,” said Cypress Bay coach Mark Guandolo, who has now guided three different schools to state (the others are Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna and Miami Southridge). “It’s a long haul this season and we have to stay together. Now all the distractions come, and we have to let these kids now that the team that handles it the best usually wins the championship.”
The Lightning scored the game’s first 26 points in barely more than a quarter and held on behind a defense that had two timely interceptions, including one by Montgomery that he returned 34 yards to put Cypress Bay ahead 26-0 early in the second quarter.
The Lightning finished with 263 rushing yards as a team led by Matt Dayes’ 180 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns.
Columbus (9-5), a team trying to advance to state for the first time since 1982, was eliminated in the state semifinals for the second consecutive season.
“Cypress Bay was on fire at the beginning and we didn’t match their intensity,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said. “Their strength up front is their huge line, and that’s been our kryptonite all season.”
Montgomery refused to leave the field, even when Guandolo tried to pull him for a breather.
“I had to play every play because at this point it’s whatever it takes to win,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery helped set the tone early with some acrobatics.
He outleaped a defender and hauled in a pass from Jaranta Lewis near midfield and outran Columbus secondary to the end zone for an 87-yard touchdown that gave the Lightning a 14-0 lead.
Dayes, however, got things started and consistently powered Cypress Bay’s offense again. Dayes broke a 67-yard touchdown run on the game’s second play when ran to his right found an opening and swerved through Columbus’ secondary to the end zone.
Dayes also scored a 13-yard touchdown as part of Cypress Bay’s great start.
“When I got the ball on that first play, I didn’t think I could take it to the house at first, but I turned but there was no one there so I took it,” Dayes said. “I’m still shocked right now. This is a great feeling you can’t describe.”
Columbus finally scored midway through the second quarter when Lorenzo Woodley ran it in from 22 yards out. The Explorers gained more momentum before the half when Jesus Wilson blocked a field goal to keep the deficit at 26-7.
But Cypress Bay’s defense had an answer for any serious Columbus threats the entire game.
Led by linebacker Nico Marley, who had more than 10 solo tackles, the Lightning frustrated Columbus quarterback Tucker Beirne, limiting him to 17 of 35 passing for 169 yards and two interceptions.
After gaining possession in Columbus territory early in the second half, Lewis put the game further out of reach when he ran up the middle into a mass of Columbus defenders. Lewis did not stop and maintained his balance enough to reach the end zone for the touchdown.