Oshton Armstrong’s 50-yard run in third quarter symbolized what Columbus did to North Miami in the second half of a 32-6 victory: they left them behind. Armstrong piled up 193 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries in the region 4-8A quarterfinal at North Miami Stadium.
We had a great week at practice,” Armstrong said. “I felt like by just being patient, I progressed in my game a lot as a running back. We just got better. We started off rocky but made adjustments to get it done.”
Nick Garcia jumped a second quarter screen pass route and intercepted a throw from Pioneers quarterback Hilton Joseph, taking it 30 yards for the only score of the first half.
“They threw the screen a couple times and I tried to get it, but that time the quarterback muffed the snap and I got a good jump on the ball,” Garcia said. “I don’t think he saw me. He had thrown it like four consecutive times. It gave me an opportunity to catch it and score.”
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The two teams punted a combined seven times in the first half and the Explorers (7-4) led despite eight penalties for 80 yards.
“Our defense was playing great, our linebackers, defensive backs, everyone across the board,” Garcia said. “We almost shut out a great North Miami team and you couldn’t ask for more.”
Although the Explorers would never find a penalty remedy, finishing with 11 flags for 115 yards, the offense ignited in the third quarter.
Armstrong scored twice, once from 5 yards and once from 10 yards to give the Explorers a 22-0 lead at the 6:37 mark. Then the offensive play calling got tricky when the Explorers faked a field goal.
Andres Fernandez flipped from holder to gunslinger on a 5-yard pass to Danny Fernandez, giving the Explorers a 29-0 lead and wrapping up a 22-point quarter.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Explorers coach Chris Merritt said. “[North Miami] coach Ed Williams does a great job. They had a great season but we caught fire in the second half. We had those penalties. We got called for some things and had to make adjustments at halftime.”
“In the second half, the kids came out determined. It started out with the defense forcing three and out. Our offense caught fire and running game took over.”
A Joseph Tolgyesi field goal was the Explorers final score. Alex Pierre had a 3-yard rushing score with 2:50 remaining to keep the Pioneers (9-2) from being shut out.
Joseph completed 26 of 50 passes for 191 yards and had two interceptions in the loss.
“We have a great group of seniors and we basically talked to each other at halftime,” Armstrong said. “We weren’t ready to go home. Now we have a rematch against Coral Gables. We are coming for revenge.”
Columbus faces Coral Gables at 7 p.m. Thursday at Tropical Park in a Region 4-8A semifinal.