Capped by a fourth quarter touchdown run by sophomore running back Henry Parish, Jr. the Columbus Explorers raced to victory Thursday night at Miami’s Tropical Park Stadium over South Dade, 28-14.
With it’s lone loss coming to Miami Northwestern at the beginning of the season, Columbus (10-1) proved again that it has state championship caliber characteristics in the state of Florida’s highest classification. Thursday was a dominant performance by the Explorer team coached by 20 year veteran coach, Chris Merritt.
“We won’t lose focus,” said Merritt after the win.
Merritt spent significant time pointing to the consistency his team has exhibited all year long and even with the news of major Broward County 8A programs that are no longer in the playoff run. Gone are Deerfield Beach, Plantation and shockingly, Miramar who as a #1 seed, just beat nationally ranked St. Thomas Aquinas before round one of the playoffs.
The key to victory for Columbus was a powerful ground game and limiting mistakes and turnovers. South Dade’s defensive back Tyrique Stevenson was the brightest shinning star on the night and the best player on the field at defensive back. However, his Buccaneer team came up short on the evening as they turned the ball over too many times and killed drives with costly penalties.
The Explorer win was relatively easy, but it wasn’t without intrigue.
With just under two minutes left in the game, an errant pitch by Columbus quarterback Anthony Arguelles (who had a brilliant game otherwise) was recovered by South Dade. The option run play inside the Explorers 20 yard line was bobbled and recovered by Dervon Marius who returned it for a touchdown.
South Dade climed to within a score, 20-14 and would win with another score and extra point conversion.
On the ensuing kick, an onside kick attempt by the Bucs failed and Columbus recovered and Parrish, Jr. raced down to the 2-yard line and on the next play into the end zone, putting the game out of reach.
Columbus advances to the regional final in Florida’s 8A bracket and sits just two wins away from reaching another state championship.
In 2014, the Explores lost to Apopka 30-23 in the state Championship game.