Failure to finish games against Coral Gables cost Columbus’ football team twice last season.
The Explorers didn’t let it happen a third time.
Although Friday night’s rematch was only a regular-season game, and potentially the first of two meetings between the district rivals, Columbus gained a measure of redemption against Gables, rallying to beat the Cavaliers 14-13 at Tropical Park.
“No matter what you draw up, it comes down to who controls the line of scrimmage,” Columbus senior defensive end Alejandro Levy said. “We did on both offense and defense. We probably could have executed a little better, but a win is a win.”
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Levy had a key sack on Coral Gables’ final drive to seal the outcome of the game. Levy helped anchor a tough performance by the Explorers’ defensive line, and senior J.R. Garrigo helped Columbus’ secondary limit Gables’ talented wide receiving corps.
“This was exactly what [Gables] did to us last year when we were up by 13 points,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said. “This was another test for us where we had to learn how to finish.”
Columbus (3-0, 1-0 in District 14-8A) erased a 13-0 first-half deficit as its defense shut out Coral Gables (2-1, 0-1) in the second half, limiting the Cavaliers to only 50 yards rushing after the first quarter.
Junior running back Ivan Smith energized Columbus’ offense from the second quarter on, rushing for 129 yards on nine carries.
His most memorable came on a toss sweep in the third quarter in which he burst up field and ran 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Smith capped Columbus’ first scoring drive in the first half with a 5-yard touchdown run.
“Ivan is electric,” Merritt said. “We’re going to put our best guys back there and he is our best.”
Gables rallied twice last season to beat Columbus, winning the District 14-8A title and eliminating the Explorers in the second round of the playoffs.
Although both teams still have to play four more district games, they each felt even before Friday’s game, as though they were playing the first in a two-game series again.
“It’s a good victory, but at the end of the day, it’s still Week 3 of the season,” Levy said. “We didn’t win the state title [Friday] and that’s our ultimate goal. This was another step forward.”
The Cavaliers looked like they were ready to exact more punishment on their district rivals in the first half.
After gaining possession at Columbus’ 47-yard line, Gables marched on a 10-play drive capped by Amir Rasul’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Following a fumble recovery by Kenneth Herring, Gables capitalized moments later when Hans Supre escaped down the sideline and scored from 63 yards out to give Gables a 13-0 lead. But a bad snap on the extra point led to Columbus blocking it — a play that proved costly to the Cavaliers.
“We had some big plays on both sides, but I keep telling our kids how important special teams can be,” Merritt said. “If they hit that extra point early on, the whole complexion of this game could have been different. Last year, we had our kicks blocked. So, hey, it is what it is now.”