High School Sports

Andre C. Fernandez: Columbus has a slight edge over Flanagan

Columbus is back in the state semifinals for the third time in four seasons.

Is this the long-awaited breakthrough year for the Explorers?

Or is it Flanagan that is destined to continue a historic undefeated season with a trip to the state championship game next week?

Flanagan is preparing a “blackout” with fans encouraged to wear black shirts to the game.

The atmosphere promises to be hostile for the visiting Explorers.

But this year’s Columbus team has shown signs it might be ready to take the next step and clinch a trip to state.

▪ Class 8A state semifinal — Columbus (12-1) at Flanagan (13-0): Both teams mirror each other in the way their teams have balance on the offensive side of the ball and often stingy defenses.

Flanagan quarterback Ryan Stanley has been one of the most efficient in the state during the playoffs. Columbus quarterback Tucker Beirne has limited his interceptions this season and has become one of the more accurate passers in South Florida.

Flanagan’s Arkeem Granger leads the Falcons running game, and Columbus’ Ivan Smith and Andres Fernandez have led a potent attack for the Explorers.

The receiving corps of both squads has FBS-level talent, with Columbus’ Jerron Rollins and Austin Maloney, and Flanagan with Keavon Mitchell and Emonee Spence.

Flanagan’s defense did a solid job against a potent Monarch offense and shut out Wellington last week.

But Columbus’ defense has only allowed 16 points in its past five games and was unforgiving against Coral Gables and Killian over the past two weeks.

For Columbus to handle the elements on the road and end the state finals drought, it needs that defense to be in shutdown mode again.

But if Flanagan gets its offense going early, it will be another disappointing ending.

This is Columbus’ chance to prove itself at the state championship level.

Andre’s pick: Columbus 28, Flanagan 27.

▪ Class 4A state championship — Booker T. Washington (13-0) vs. Jacksonville Bolles (12-1): The Tornadoes survived Cocoa — just barely. A failed two-point conversion with no time remaining sent Booker T. to its fourth consecutive state final.

And now Booker T. faces another very familiar opponent — Jacksonville Bolles.

The two teams are facing each other for the fourth consecutive season in the Class 4A state title game. The Bulldogs are making their 16th state finals appearance.

Even if the names have changed, expect both teams to play to their strengths with Booker T.’s wide-open offense and Bolles’ effective Wing-T offense.

But the Tornadoes are battle-tested and ready to make history.

Andre’s pick: Booker T. 34, Bolles 20.

▪ Class 6A state semifinal — Miami Central (12-1) at Daytona Beach Mainland (13-0): This is the matchup many, including me, expected since early in the season. And this is the game that could end Central’s run of four consecutive state finals appearances.

Mainland hung tough with Central last season even with Rockets running back Dalvin Cook running wild at Traz Powell Stadium.

A talented offense led by quarterback Trey Rodriguez and a defense led by FSU commit A.J. Westbrook and Georgia Tech commit Meiko Dotson has been waiting for this chance to avenge last year’s loss.

But Central’s defense has been great this season when it has been tested.

Andre’s pick: Central 24, Mainland 23.

▪ Class 7A state semifinal — Tarpon Springs East Lake (13-0) at St. Thomas Aquinas (12-1): This could finally be the week Aquinas is challenged.

East Lake comes in unbeaten and with talented athletes such as wide receiver George Campbell (FSU commit), linebacker Carson Lyndon (Virginia Tech commit), defensive back Justin Strand (Wake Forest commit) and kicker Daniel LaCamera (Texas A&M commit).

The Raiders will be challenged, but they still have double the talent across the board and have been playing on another level.

Andre’s pick: St. Thomas Aquinas 28, East Lake 14.

▪ Class 5A state semifinal — Orlando Bishop Moore (13-0) at American Heritage (10-3): Like Aquinas, Heritage has just taken care of business week after week in the playoffs. This week should be no different against another team that can’t match experience with the Patriots.

Andre’s pick: American Heritage 37, Bishop Moore 14.

NOTE: All games at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Andre’s Dade record — Last week: 3-0; Season: 272-57 (.827).

Andre’s Broward record — Last week: 3-0; Season: 225-47 (.827).