A large contingent from Miami Columbus drove an hour in traffic hoping to witness something that hadn’t happened in three decades. Fans painted a banner with red and blue ink that read, “Make history.”
The Explorers, hoping to make their first state title game since 1982, fell one game short for the second consecutive year in a 33-13 loss to Cypress Bay in the Class 8A state semifinal Friday night at Lightning Stadium.
“If being consistently in the top five in Dade County — in the best football county in the country — is a disappointment, then I don’t know,” coach Chris Merritt said. “Somebody’s going to have to redefine that for me. These kids have a lot to be proud of.”
Last year, Miramar beat Columbus 14-6. The program, which has averaged nine wins per season over the past 12 years under Merritt, has also won 10 district championships. Aside from the final loss in 1982, Columbus also reached the title game in 1980 and couldn’t win the championship.
After dropping its regular-season finale to Killian to wrap up a 6-4 record, the Explorers (9-5) outscored their next three opponents 127-35 in the postseason.
“Two years in a row going to the state semifinal is a good experience,” senior linebacker Mikey Ferro said. “The young guys have got to remember the feeling of the loss and drive them to make it all the way next time.”
On Friday, Cypress Bay (12-2) proved to be too much early on, scoring 20 first-quarter points on the way to its first state final appearance in the program’s 10-year history.
The Lightning has won eight in a row since losing to the nation’s top team, Bradenton Manatee, 42-20, on Oct. 12. Cypress Bay dropped a 30-27 state semifinal to eventual champion Miami Central in 2010.
“They came out on fire and we didn’t match the intensity,” Merritt said. “We made some mistakes early on that got us behind, and they’re too well-coached and their size up front. That’s been our Kryptonite from both sides of the football. When it came time to make a game of it, a little too late.”
As a team, the Lightning has rushed for 3,199 yards on the season. Senior Matt Dayes has now carried the ball 244 times for 1,708 yards and 24 touchdowns. thanks to a 180-yard and two-touchdown effort on Friday.
“They were really good in the trenches in the O-line and D–line,” Ferro said. “We came out here and played our best, but they just beat us.”
For Columbus, senior running back Daryl Chestnut finished the season with 111 carries for 1,208 yards (10.8 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns. Senior running back Lorenzo Woodley III added 1,086 yards on 171 carries with 24 touchdowns.
“I feel like I had a great coaching staff and I learned a lot from this team,” Woodley said.
After the game, Merritt gave his players a pep talk before sending off the seniors, reminding them of all they have achieved.
“He told us we’d go down as one of the top-five teams in history at Columbus,” Woodley said. “We shouldn’t walk off the field with our heads down because we achieved something that most teams didn’t.”