Columbus coach Chris Merritt had a news bulletin for his team after their dominating 33-7 victory over previously unbeaten Killian on Friday night.
“I’ve got news for you guys — we’re no longer the best kept secret in Dade County,” Merritt told his players. “I told you we were going to break hearts this year. Let’s go break some more next week.”
Killian (12-1) came in with a defense that was giving up only 5.7 points and 146 yards a game. Led by quarterback Tucker Beirne and receivers Austin Maloney and Jerron Rollins, Columbus (12-1) piled up 422 yards of offense and rolled to a Region 4-8A final victory at Southridge Field.
The Explorers, who have given up just 15 points total in their past six games, will play at Flanagan (13-0) next Friday night. It’s the third time in the past four seasons Columbus has advanced to the doorstep of the state finals.
“We knew in the past that they were going to get a lot of junk up front, moving and stunting, so we kept our run game pretty simple,” Merritt said. “What we wanted to do was out-formation them and be selective with our shots deep. They are a good secondary, but our kids have played good secondaries all year and we’ve got a couple of special receivers and they proved it [Friday]. They beat some pretty good Division 1 talent one-on-one."
The game began to get away from Killian shortly before the half. After a 26-yard field goal by Joseph Tolgyesi put the Explorers up 10-7 with 55 seconds left in the half, defensive end Alejandro Levy smacked Killian quarterback Antwan Collier from behind and jarred the ball loose at the Cougars’ 41-yard line on the next play from scrimmage. Linebacker Fernando Escobar pounced on it at the Cougars’ 43-yard line.
Three plays later, Collins ran a double-move route down the sideline, leaving Killian cornerback Sheldrick Redwine in the dust on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Beirne with six seconds left in the half. The two scores in a span of 49 seconds put Columbus up at the half 17-7.
“We as a team are playing with incredible confidence right now no matter who we face. And that’s the most important thing from here on out,” Beirne said. “You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t practice that character on and off the field, you’ll decay slowly.”
Maloney finished with five catches for 122 yards to compliment the seven catches for 83 yards and two scores Jerron Rollins turned in.
Beirne finished 21 of 28 for 250 yards and two scores. He also ran for 41 yards on nine carries and was intercepted in the third quarter by Killian safety Jaquan Johnson, a University of Miami commitment.
But the interception turned out to mean little. The Explorers forced five fumbles and recovered three of them. Safety Trajan Bandy also had an interception late.
“The Central loss was probably a good thing for us,” Merritt said. “It kept us under the radar. But now we’re in the final four. It’s our time to show up.”
COL-Rollins 13 pass from Beirne (Tolgyesi kick)
KIL-Herrera 26 pass from Collier (Shojaeinia kick)
COL-FG Tolgyesi 26
COL-Rollins 32 pass from Beirne (Tolgyesi kick)
COL-FG Tolgyesi 39
COL-A. Fernandez 4 run (pass failed)
COL-I. Smith 34 run (Tolgyeski kick)
Rushing (att-yds) -- COL: Ros 2-(-3), Donaldson 2-5, Beirne 9-41, Fernandez 12-50, Smith 12-86. KIL: Collier 4-(-1), Herrera 1-3, Lewis 1-10, Mortimore 4-13, Thompson 5-19.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- COL: Beirne 21-28-1, 250. KIL: Collier 12-22-1, 107.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- COL: Fernandez 2-(-4), Smith 1-1, Hernandez 1-5, Pugh 1-17, Fernandez 4-36, Rollins 7-83, Maloney 5-122. KIL: Thompson 1-(-5), Mortimore 1-3, Munroe 1-9, Johnson 1-15, Mas 1-17, Johnson 2-20, Herrera 2-26, Olivencia 3-33.