It’s about as much revenge as a team can get on an opponent that took a district championship from it three weeks prior.
But Columbus coach Chris Merritt opted to go with a word he found more fitting — redemption.
With its quarterback Alex Ros returning to the lineup after missing that district championship game Oct. 30, Columbus handled previously unbeaten Coral Gables 35-0 in a Region 4-8A semifinal that meant a bit more on Friday night at Tropical Park in the clash of AP Class 8A top-10 rivals.
The Explorers (11-1) have now eliminated the Cavaliers (10-1) in three out of the four consecutive regional semifinal meetings.
Columbus advances to a regional final against South Dade at Harris Field.
“We beat ourselves that first game. I don’t care about the injury to the quarterback. The next kid has got to get ready to play,” Merritt said. “So for us it was about redemption. It was about putting things back in place, back in order.”
While Merritt won’t make excuses for being without Ros in Columbus’ only loss this season, the senior quarterback’s impact was felt from his leadership, to his presence, and ultimately his play.
Ros completed 12 of 20 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns.
“That loss motivated us to be even better than we were before,” said Ros, who missed that regular-season bout with Coral Gables with a collarbone injury. “We came out hungry. We played our hearts out.”
In a balanced offensive effort, Columbus ran for 247 yards. CJ Henderson went for 101 on 11 carries and Darren Davis Jr. had 61 on eight attempts – each with a touchdown.
“Good old Columbus football. That’s what we wanted to do,” Merritt said. “We knew that they didn’t go in the weight room and get bigger in [three] weeks. We still knew that we had that advantage.”
Henderson took a carry 37 yards up the middle for a touchdown on Columbus’ first offensive play.
The Explorers extended their lead right before halftime as Daniel Courtney caught a pass at the 5-yard line and fought three defenders to cross the goal line and score a 24-yard touchdown with four seconds remaining before the half.
It capped an eight-play, 89-yard, two-minute offense drive in which Ros completed four of his five passes for 65 yards.
Jerron Rollins, who finished with five catches for 74 yards, picked up three first downs on the drive. Courtney finished with 54 yards on three receptions.
The game was put out of reach on a pair of second-half touchdowns. Ros lobbed a 16-yard touchdown to a wide-open John Michel over the middle before the end of the third quarter, and Darren Davis Jr. scampered for a 15-yard touchdown in the fourth.
Columbus began to run the clock with 2:08 remaining when Yael Gomez pounded through the line for a 2-yard score.
The defense held the Cavaliers to 112 yards of total offense, recording sacks from Josh Uche, Guy Thomas and Sean Heffernan and an athletic first-half interception from junior Trajan Bandy.
“I just give credit to the defensive line,” said Bandy, the 5-9 cornerback who leaped over a bigger receiver in single coverage for his pick. “They played their butts off, they flew around, they made plays.”
Gables running back and FSU commit Amir Rasul was limited to 36 yards on 14 carries. Quarterback Voshon Waiters went 7-of-17 passing for 58 yards and an interception.
COL- Henderson 37 run (Pastor kick)
COL- Courtney 7 pass from Ros (Pastor kick)
COL- Michel 16 pass from Ros (Pastor kick)
COL- Davis Jr. 15 run (Pastor kick)
COL- Gomez 2 run (Pastor kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- COL: Ros 2-0, Gomez 7-22, Rivero 2-23, Davis, Jr. 8-61, Henderson 11-101. CG: Romer 1-5, Waiters 7-6, Ford 3-7, Rasul 14-36.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- COL: Ros 12-20-0, 175. CG: Waiters 7-17-1, 58.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- COL: Moreno 1-8, Hidalgo Jr. 1-8, Michel 1-16, Courtney 3-54, Rollins 5-74. CG: Rodriguez 1-(-2), Clark-McNatte 1-4, Barron 2-12, Jones 1-15, Ford 3-29.