It didn’t take long following last week’s 35-0 blowout loss to Carol City for Columbus head coach Chris Merritt and his players to hear all the chatter on social media.
It came one week after the Explorers had pulled off a huge win over long-time nemesis and defending 6A state champion Northwestern.
“We heard all about it,” said Merritt. “How our win over Northwestern was a fluke.”
Well, Merritt and his Columbus players perhaps made a loud statement on Friday night that there was nothing fluky about that Northwestern win. That following a dramatic 28-21 win over another Miami-Dade County powerhouse, Booker T. Washington in a terrific high school football game at Curtis Park.
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A back-and-forth affair all night, it came right down to the last play with 10 seconds left when the Tornadoes had a fourth-and-goal at the Columbus 10.
That’s when Booker T. quarterback Torrey Morrison dropped back and tossed a high floater to the corner of the end zone for Kevin Butler. It was the exact same play they defeated Southridge last week on in double overtime.
Only this time, it didn’t work as Columbus safety Branden Coleman went up with Butler on what amounted to a jump ball and managed to knock it away preserving the win as the Explorers improved to 3-1 while the Tornadoes, with perhaps the toughest schedule in the nation, fell to 2-2.
“This is three weeks in a row of playing state championship caliber teams and you just can’t say enough about what these kids did out there tonight,” said Merritt. “We got punched in the mouth pretty hard by Carol City last week and to be honest, we lost more than just a game, we lost a lot of respect around the county so this was really important for these kids to come out here tonight and make a statement and they did. I couldn’t be happier with the way they responded.”
There were heroes galore on both sides of the ball on this night but standing out for the Explorers was running back Henry Parrish who finished with 164 yards on 18 carries. But the most important of those yards were on his final carry, a 75-yard jaunt to the end zone with 6:40 left in the game snapping a 21-21 tie, just one play after the Tornadoes had tied it on a Morrison-to-Jacorey Brooks six yard touchdown pass.
“I just saw a crease, cut it up and hit it, it’s all about north and south,” said Parrish, only a junior but who already has offers from Iowa, FAU and Toledo with interest from Florida, Pitt and FIU. “We knew after last week, we had the mentally that we just had to refocus and let everyone know what Columbus football was all about.”
“He’s just a real talented running back,” said Merritt of his star running back. “All he needs is a crease and a seam and he makes defenses pay and he did that out there tonight.”
Columbus dominated most of the first half, jumping out to a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter on a 17 yard touchdown pass from Brandon McDuffey to Gary Cooper and a 10-yard scoring toss to Parrish 6:09 before the half.
But Booker T. Washington, thanks mainly to a remarkable statistical night from Morrison and wide receiver Jacorey Brooks, climbed right back in it.
The Tornadoes put together a 92-yard, 13 play drive to close out the first half, Morrison finding Brooks for a 17-yard touchdown 33 seconds before halftime.
The Tornadoes took that momentum and got the game tied midway through the third quarter when Rance Conner picked off a McDuffey pass and bolted 46 yards for a score tying the game at 14.
The Explorers, thanks to a 28 yard run by Parrish and a 34-yarder by Demetries Ford, answered back quickly with an 80-yard scoring drive, Parrish going over from a yard out early in the fourth to go back up 21-14.
Following a Tornado punt, McDuffey threw his second interception when Travis Pittman picked him off at the Columbus 26. Four plays later, Morrison, who finished his night with pinball-like numbers, completing 32-of-42 passes for 331 yards, found Brooks in the end zone for the six yard score to tie the game. Brooks had his own pinball-type numbers, finishing the night with 17 receptions for 175 yards.