The prospect of playing Columbus’ football team hasn’t generated much concern from its opponents this postseason.
Maybe it’s about time that changed.
The Explorers took apart South Dade, one of South Florida’s best, and left Harris Field with a 42-9 victory in the Region 4-8A final Friday night.
After allowing an early field goal following a turnover, Columbus scored 42 unanswered points and advanced to the Class 8A state semifinals for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
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The Explorers (12-1) will host Pembroke Pines Flanagan (10-2) in a rematch of last year’s state semifinal — won by Columbus — at 7:30 p.m. Friday at a site to be determined. Columbus officials said the game would likely be held at Tropical Park.
For Columbus, which was the Class 8A state runner-up last season, it was the latest in a string of three dominant victories since dropping its regular-season finale to Coral Gables. That loss put the previously unbeaten Explorers on the road for the postseason and left their once-promising state-championship hopes in doubt.
“We were kind of hoping for that,” Columbus coach Chris Merritt said. “The same thing happened to us last year when we lost to Central. We went into a gray area where nobody was thinking about us or talking about us. Now, they have no choice. We’re one of four teams left.”
Last week, the Explorers routed Coral Gables 35-0 in the regional semifinals.
On Friday night, Columbus limited South Dade (10-2) to only 190 yards, most of which came in the fourth quarter when the clock was running because of the 35-point mercy rule.
The Explorers’ defense, one of the team’s strengths from the start of the season, held South Dade’s running game in check with most of its 84 rushing yards coming on a 74-yard run before the half by Jawon Hamilton.
That play came after Columbus had taken a 28-3 lead. Moments later, after a series of stops and penalties, South Dade could not capitalize on its best offensive play of the game.
“It’s just a credit to our coaches because they put in the perfect scheme for us to make plays,” Columbus defensive end Joshua Uche said. “This school’s motto is you work for what you get and we want this bad.”
The game could have shifted greatly in South Dade’s favor early.
Senior quarterback Alex Ros made his only errant toss of the game when he was picked off underneath by linebacker Andrew Matthews. The turnover led to a Mark Sanchez 25-yard field goal and the Bucs’ only lead of the game at 3-0.
Ros recovered quickly, as did the Explorers.
He threw three touchdown passes, including two to Jerron Rollins that helped build the large first-half lead.
Junior running back C.J. Henderson provided the first spark with a 32-yard touchdown run that put Columbus ahead 7-3. Early in the third quarter, Henderson burst through the line of scrimmage and rumbled 67 yards for another touchdown.
Henderson finished with 112 yards on eight carries, and Ros completed 7 of 9 passes for 117 yards.
“We’re hungry and alive and excited,” Ros said. “These past few weeks have been great for us, but we know we have to keep playing good football.”
SD-FG Sanchez 25
COL-Henderson 32 run (Pastor kick)
COL-Gonzalez-Brito 13 pass from Ros (Pastor kick)
COL-Rollins 28 pass from Ros (Pastor kick)
COL-Rollins 5 pass from Ros (Pastor kick)
COL-Henderson 67 run (Pastor kick)
COL-Gomez 5 run (Pastor kick)
SD-Worthen 3 run (run failed)
Rushing (att-yds) -- COL: Arguelles 1-(-2), Ros 1-5, Pozo 1-7, Gomez 3-10, Davis, Jr. 5-80, Henderson 8-112. SD: Sanchez 1-(-26), Worthen 2-3, Harvey 1-4, Smith 6-4, Saintvil 2-12, Durham 4-19, Hamilton 10-68.
Passing (comp-att-int, yds)-- COL: Arguelles 1-1-0, 25, Ros 7-9-0, 117. SD: Durham 4-9-0, 43, Saintvil 4-5-0, 63.
Receiving (rec-yds-TD) -- COL: Michel 1-14, Courtney 1-19, Gonzalez-Brito 2-24, Cooper 1-25, Williams 1-27, Rollins 2-33. SD: Wiggins 2-31, Smith 5-35, Laguerre 1-40.