Oh how much a difference a year can make. This time last year there was a lot of doubt surrounding the Columbus Explorers football program. Asking ourselves whether or not the program would return to the Deon Bush Brandon Radcliffe days. What fools we were and rightfully so. This team did something last Friday that hasn’t happened since my dad was a senior at Columbus, since the days of Alonzo Highsmith and Mike Shula. It’s been more than 30 years since Columbus has reached the state final. Yes, It’s been a long wait but how sweet it is.
This magical journey started believe it or not around this time last year. It was at Traz Powell stadium where the seeds were planted. Columbus gave up a lead to a hungry Coral Gables football team, losing on a game winning field goal. It was that bad taste left in their mouths that fueled the fire burning right now to this day. This senior class did not want to go out like that, not that way. They put in the work, they were in that beautiful wellness center on those hot summer days. They were on that football field putting in the work that was required to succeed.
A lot of people doubted this team from the start and the team knew that. Local media projected this team to be below average, I’m not going to say names they know who they are. I myself am guilty of doubting this football team but who didn’t? I thought this team MIGHT make it to the semi-finals, boy did they prove me wrong.
This team could have easily pressed the rebuild button and start all over but they didn’t. They scheduled games against teams like Miami Central, They traveled to Kentucky to face the 2nd winningest program in the United States. This team focused on all the little things before dreaming big. They focused on taking back the district, they went undefeated. They wanted to avenge the senior class of last year, they beat Coral Gables…Twice. They did all of that in dominating fashion. The defense like always was the anchor of this football team, every time the “dark side” was put to the test they prevailed. The offense led by 3rd year starter Tucker Beirne has been great this season. A lot of that has to do with the improvement of the quarterback, he has grown into the leader many people around this program expected him to be. The Emergence of junior running back Ivan Smith has added to the arsenal that already includes FIU commit Austin Maloney and senior Andres Fernandez.
Last Friday night was an event thirty plus years in the making. The Explorers pulled off a nail biting victory beating the Flanagan Falcons 16 to 12. There was crying, there was hugging, it was a very special night. The next and final stop on this roller coaster of a season is the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. The site where Columbus will face the Apopka Blue-Darters. Apopka has made it to the last three 8-a state finals, losing last year to the South Dade Buccaneers. Coach Merrit will have to get his boys ready for that Georgia Tech like option offense that the Blue-Darters run. The Miami Herald has Columbus winning by two points, do with that as you wish. Bring your nail clippers, it’s gonna be a nail biter.
Explorers from all across the nation will be traveling to Orlando hoping to see history happen in the Citrus Bowl Saturday night. Buses filled with students will be headed up North on a trip they will never forget. My dad has told me time and time again about the heart break he endured on that cold December night in 1982, he already has warned me about that long silent trip back home. No you won’t be seeing Alonzo Highsmith and Mike Shula on the field at the Citrus Bowl, you’ll be seeing Tucker Beirne and Andres Fernandez trying to do something Highsmith and Shula never did. This team has proved a lot and has made history, time to keep writing it.