For Columbus’ football team beating Coral Gables once wasn’t enough.
The Explorers knew that avenging last season’s playoff defeat and sweeping the season series was their only true measure of redemption.
Columbus got it behind another near-perfect defensive effort, shutting out Coral Gables 22-0 in a Region 4-8A semifinal at Tropical Park.
The Explorers (11-1) advanced to the regional finals for the third time in four seasons and will play either Killian or Belen Jesuit next Friday at a site to be determined.
“The coaches, the players and the alumni at this school have a lot of pride, and it was bruised,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said. “We came out to defend it and the kids have done it.”
Columbus’ defense recorded its third consecutive shutout, and has not allowed an offensive score in four straight games. The Explorers have allowed nine points combined in their past five games.
The Explorers, who lost twice to Coral Gables (9-3) last season and beat the Cavaliers 14-13 in the regular season, were especially stingy Thursday night.
Columbus held Gables to 116 total yards, including 27 rushing and only five first downs.
Gables had an opportunity to stun Columbus on its first offensive play when senior Jordan Garcia took a lateral from quarterback Voshon Waiters and dropped back to pass. His throw to a wide open Jaylin Clark-McNatte was dropped.
The Cavaliers couldn’t muster much on offense the rest of the way.
Columbus turned up the defensive intensity in the second half forcing punts on all five drives without giving up a first down.
“There’s been no two teams that have played each other more than these two have the past three years,” Merritt said. “They do a great job at Gables, but we look for tendencies and we found something we could exploit tonight.”
Columbus didn’t have anywhere near as hard of a time moving the ball on offense.
The Explorers put together a balanced attack that amassed 183 yards rushing and 161 passing (344 overall).
Senior Andres Fernandez and junior Ivan Smith paced the running game as Fernandez finished with 89 yards on 15 carries. Fernandez completed a fake extra-point pass to defensive end Alejandro Levy for two points that gave Columbus a 15-0 lead.
Smith had 45 yards on 11 carries, and caught two screen passes from senior quarterback Tucker Beirne that he took for touchdowns.
The first was a 12-yarder that capped an 88-yard drive on Columbus second possession to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Smith’s second touchdown was a 19-yarder and put Columbus comfortably ahead late in the third quarter.
Beirne completed 11 of 20 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another.
“We’re getting pressure and making teams one-dimensional and then our guys have been able to pin their ears back and go after people,” Merritt said. “We have a bunch of blue-collar workers. We’re not looking for flash. These kids work their tails off and that’s what they come in every day to do.”
CORAL GABLES 0
COL-Smith 13 pass from Beirne (Tolgyesi kick)
COL -Beirne 1 run (Levy pass from Fernandez)
COL -Smith 19 pass from Beirne (Tolgyesi kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- CG: Waiters 4-(-6), Mike 2-(-4), Garcia 2-1, Supre 4-14, Rasul 6-22. COL: Wassman 1-3, Donaldson 4-13, Beirne 9-33, Smith 11-45, Fernandez 15-89.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- CG: Garcia 0-2-0, 0, Waiters 12-23-0, 89. COL: Beirne 11-20-0, 161.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- CG: Gamble 1-4, Rasul 2-8, Clark-McNatte 1-16, Wilson 6-28, Garcia 2-33. COL: Wassman 1-4, Fernandez 2-18, Hernandez 1-26, Smith 2-32, Rollins 1-35, Maloney 4-46.