Southridge has the phrase “Return of the Empire” on printed copies of its team rosters.
Whether the Spartans return to their football glory days of the early 1990s won’t be known until later this season.
But Friday night’s 26-15 victory over Columbus at Tropical Park gave an indication Southridge has its best chance at winning a state title in quite some time.
The Spartans scored twice on special teams and its defense yielded only one Columbus touchdown in a matchup between two of Miami-Dade County’s top contenders in Class 8A.
“This is a big victory for us as a program because I know Southridge hasn’t beaten Columbus in a long time,” Southridge coach Billy Rolle said. “A win like this makes this team a lot closer.”
Kemore Gamble ran for a touchdown and caught a 15-yard TD pass from Michael Cox to open the second half.
The score was set up by Southridge’s defense, which pinned Columbus inside its own 10 and helped its offense regain possession in the red zone following a poor punt.
The Spartans defense forced three turnovers and recorded eight sacks.
Southridge (2-0) limited Columbus to 43 yards in the first half and one first down.
The Spartans held Columbus to 19 rushing yards and 127 overall.
“We treated this like a playoff game,” Rolle said. “Not to get ahead of ourselves, but we needed to beat a team like this for confidence.”
Just before halftime, the Spartans offense put together a 13-play, 67-yard drive capped by a Gamble 1-yard touchdown run.
On the ensuing drive, Columbus (1-2) had an errant snap on a punt that Antwan Collier recovered and ran into the end zone from 7 yards out to give Southridge a 13-7 lead.
The Spartans led for the remainder of the game.
After Gamble’s touchdown catch, Mark Pope returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown to give Southridge a 26-7 lead.
“This was a huge game for our defense and special teams,” Rolle said.
Columbus pulled closer on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Nicholas Gonzalez to C.J. Henderson and a subsequent two-point conversion.
It was the Explorers’ only offensive score. The other came on a 56-yard interception return for a touchdown by Trajan Bandy on Southridge’s first drive.
But Southridge’s defense held Columbus on downs in the closing minutes to prevent a comeback.
“It was huge to come back after they scored first,” Rolle said. “Despite everything with guys cramping late and everything else, the guys hung in there and put in a great effort.”