David J. Neal

David J. Neal: Tears of joy as Explorers back in final after 33 years

Columbus' Juan Carlos De Los Santos (33, center) celebrates with his team after beating Flanagan in Pembroke Pines on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014.
Columbus' Juan Carlos De Los Santos (33, center) celebrates with his team after beating Flanagan in Pembroke Pines on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. Miami Herald Staff

If something makes you scream long enough, loud enough, inevitably, it will make you cry. It’s only a question of whether the tears flow in ecstasy or unforgettable agony.

The adults on the Columbus and Pembroke Pines Flanagan sidelines took care of the screaming during most of Friday night’s game, usually at penalties committed, called or not called. The players took care of the tears after Columbus’ 16-12 win in the Class 8A state semifinal at Flanagan.

Columbus senior defensive tackle Dominick DeVera leaned on a golf cart, on a training staff member, then jumped around, flinging his right arm in happiness.

“I just lost it,” DeVera admitted. “So much emotion going through this game. Both teams played an excellent game. But we got the W, which I’m thankful for. I was just overfilled with everything — nervousness, excitement, happiness, joy, anything you can possibly imagine, that’s basically what I was filled with. And it came out.”

Asked when he’d go to sleep, he laughed that he’d probably just go sleepless Friday night right into film review Saturday.

About a half hour later, in a headlight lit, emptying parking lot, one Flanagan player sobbed “I’m sorry” into a quick, tight embrace with a teammate.

He need not be. No other Flanagan team in the school’s previous 18 seasons even made the playoffs. To go 13-0 and finish one score from the state championship game counts as a season that will be spoken of for years the way you speak of your first love.

For Columbus, there’s a reason between screams, their adults chewing lips as if waiting for the other shoe (or flag or fumble) to drop. The Explorers experienced state semifinal losses twice in the last three years, and it seemed possible to happen again: two near safeties against Flanagan, including one with the ball marked strangely almost on the goal line, a fantastic on-the-move bomb from Flanagan quarterback Ryan Stanley to Kevon Mitchell on the Falcons’ last drive.

“When we ere getting penalties, pushed back, they made some catches, too,” Columbus senior wide receiver Austin Maloney said. “It was like, ‘God, this was crazy.’ This was an insane game.”

Said Columbus senior quarterbacak Tucker Beirne: “We knew coming into the game, whoever panicked less would be the successful team. We knew and we executed without panicking. We’re not the team with 20 D-1 athletes, we’re the team with a hell of a lot of heart.”

Experience showed. Flanagan got so flustered at one point in the first half, the offense lined up on a fourth-and-37 deep in their own territory. Barring a pounds-of-plastique explosive play, Columbus would’ve gotten the ball in field-goal range, likely in sniffing distance of the end zone. At the last minute, somebody on the Flanagan sideline realized it was fourth down and called a timeout to stop the insanity.

In a voice stunted by happiness, Malone, who scored Columbus’ first touchdown on a 30-yard bomb and is committed to FIU, said, “This is a beautiful thing. The last time we went to state was 33 years ago. We’re going to make a statement next Saturday. The emotions coming out now were unbelievable.”

Said Beirne said: “Here sophomore year, I was in the same place. I know that feeling. I was not going to come back to that feeling ever again in my life. I’m going to go to the next step and take the state championship with the rest of these guys.”

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