The primary focus for Booker T. Washington this week as it prepared for Columbus was the same as it is for any team as they get ready to face the Explorers: Slow down Henry Parrish.
The running back, who was honored by ESPN before the game for a “SportsCenter” Top 10 play he made in August, is one of the most prolific in the entire country and the foundation of Columbus’ offense. The Explorers are among the favorites to make it back to the Class 8A championship for the second straight year in large part because of him. The Tornadoes knew they had to first make sure they could contain him.
“We just wanted to swarm and make sure we were doing our pursuit, and that’s what we pride ourselves on — every man to the ball,” Booker T. Washington associate head coach Ben Hanks said. “This week in practice, we really emphasized that.”
The Tornadoes handled their primary assignment Friday and it turned into a dominating defensive performance — and 34-11 win — at Christopher Columbus High School. Booker T. Washington (3-1) held Parrish to 142 yards on 15 carries and 97 of those yards all came on one run in garbage time against a group of Tornado reserves. With Parrish mostly held in check, the Explorers (2-2) managed only 280 yards of total offense and they only had 163 until Booker T. Washington started to pull its starters with a 27-3 lead in the final three minutes.
The Tornadoes also grabbed three interceptions, scored a defensive touchdown, recovered a fumble and sacked Columbus quarterback Brandon McDuffey five times on a rain-soaked night in Miami.
“We pursued as a team, we played together,” said Tornadoes cornerback Rance Conner, who had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. “We stopped the best player on their offense.”
Until the fourth quarter, it was a pure defensive struggle. Booker T. Washington held Columbus to only 34 yards in the first quarter and took a 7-3 lead into halftime after quarterback Torey Morrison threw a touchdown to star wide receiver Jacorey Brooks with 1:27 left in the half.
The rain began to fall in the third quarter. Star Explorers wide receiver Xzavier Henderson went out with a right arm injury just before halftime. The Tornadoes’ defense could start to tee off as Columbus struggled to move the ball on the ground.
McDuffey threw his first interception just before the end of the third quarter. Defensive end Jeremiah Peters picked the quarterback off at the line of scrimmage and rumbled all the way to the Explorers’ 12-yard line. Two plays later, running back Nijeh Bethel punched in a touchdown to stretch the lead to 13-3.
On Columbus’ next drive, an errant snap led to a 20-yard loss and a quick three-and-out. Booker T. Washington took advantage of another short field and went 38 yards on two plays, capping another scoring drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Morrison to wide receiver Tenard Summerall.
Two plays later, the Tornadoes had the ball again after Conner picked off another pass by McDuffey, setting Booker T. Washington up at Columbus’ 16. This drive took three plays and Morrison darted into the end zone from 4 yards out. A tight game was suddenly a blowout and a 27-3 runaway.
“We’ve got a great group of receivers that can beat you one on one,” Hanks said, “but I think now we’re taking advantage of what people give us.”
Morrison finished 14 of 21 with 196 yards and two touchdown passes to go along with his touchdown run and only two of his completions traveled more than 15 yards through the air. Brooks, who scored the first touchdown, also pulled in a 60 yard catch for the longest play of the day for the Tornadoes.
While Columbus has now dropped back-to-back games without scoring more than 14 in either, Booker T. Washington has won two in a row since a three-point loss to Central last month.
It could have been a tumultuous start to the season for the Tornadoes after long-time coach Tim Harris abruptly left in August to take over as coach at Miami Gardens’ Florida Memorial University, which will begin play as an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics program in 2020.
Hanks, who had long been a member of Harris’ staff in Miami, made sure not to change much. Harris, better known as “Ice,” already had the Tornadoes pointed to Class 4A contention and Hanks just wants to keep guiding them.
“Coach ‘Ice’ did a great job before he left of really getting the guys back on par and we felt like this is our year,” Hanks said. “We’re all learning, but at the same time we haven’t changed anything from what Coach was doing. It’s more or less now trying to continue with the message and deliver the same message that Coach was.”