Columbus coach Chris Merritt suspended nine players, including four starters, for Friday night’s game, but he still had enough talent to defeat Southridge 34-21 at Tropical Stadium.
The Explorers (2-1) overcame an impressive performance by running back Jamal Adajamah, who led Southridge (1-2) with a game-high 190 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.
It was his third consecutive 100-plus-yard effort this season, although most of his damage came in the second half after Columbus had built a 27-0 lead.
Before the game, Merritt said it would be “interesting” to see how his team would respond to the absence of starting quarterback Tucker Beirne as well as Columbus’ top three centers and two tight ends.
As it turned out, Merritt shouldn’t have worried, especially with sophomore Andres Fernandez making his first career start as a varsity quarterback.
Fernandez completed his first nine passes, scored on a 27-yard quarterback draw and hit Jesus Wilson in the end zone for a 37-yard score. Overall, Fernandez ran seven times for 77 yards and completed 10 of 15 passes for 165 yards.
“I was excited,” Fernandez said when asked how he reacted when he found out he would start. “I waited for the opportunity, and I got it. I think we did a good job.”
Merritt said that the suspensions were for minor infractions but were needed to keep the kids in check.
He also said that Beirne would likely return to his starting role but that Fernandez’s running ability would have a continued presence in the offense.
“We were going to use Andres all year because he is a changeup quarterback for us,” Merritt said. “He is a talented runner and a great football player.”
Fernandez was supported by running backs Lorenzo Woodley (96 yards, one touchdown), Daryl Chestnut (87 yards, one touchdown) and Oshton Armstrong (86 yards).
The game was a matchup of two of the top three large schools in Miami-Dade, according to the preseason rankings. Both were expected to compete for the Class 8A state title this year.
But after an opening-week win, Southridge was beaten by its former coach at Homestead and suffered through six consecutive scoreless quarters before Adajamah ended that with a 55-yard run in the third quarter Friday.
The game also featured five of the top 15 college prospects in the county in Chestnut, Woodley, Wilson and Southridge defensive backs Jamal Carter and Lamar Robbins.
But Columbus came away with the win in a fashion that pleased Merritt, with the exception of the 120 yards his team gave up in penalties and the defensive effort late against Adajamah.
“Some of our [second-stringers] were in [when Adajamah got his touchdowns],” Merritt said. “But there is no excuse for that. We took our foot off the gas, and Southridge is a talented team.”
•Hialeah 22, Charlotte 21:
Hialeah’s valiant effort nearly went for naught. Instead, the Throughbreds made it pay off.
They got two touchdowns in the final two minutes to post a come-from-behind victory over Charlotte.
Charlotte (2-1) took a 21-7 lead with 3:05 to go. But Alin Edouard led the T-breds on two late scores.