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Overtime Gutsy Call Gives Explorers Second State Championship

Updated: Jan 12

by Daniel Rossi

After a remarkable season that saw the team go 13-1 and advance to the state championship game against rivals the Apopka Blue Darters, the Columbus Explorers had just one task left to do. In the history of both institutions, this would be the third time that they faced off in the state final. As Columbus won the title back in 2019 to win the school's first state championship after Apopka won it in 2014, this contest would break the tie. The Explorer's primary challenge going into the game was finding a means to score against Apopka's fierce defense.

If there is a narrative for the first half, the defense was stellar. However, the Blue Darters wanted to make a statement first. They started the game with a seven-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a Hayden Koscicki field goal from 22 yards, giving them a 3-0 lead. Tyson Davison, a freshman quarterback, ran along the sideline for 61 yards to set up the field goal.

After that, the Explorers' attack was slowed by the Blue Darters' defense, forcing Columbus to go three-and-out. However, when Dylan Stephenson punched at the ball, Apopka's Kaleb Hicks fumbled it at the 22-yard line and the dreams of scoring additional points were dashed. With 2:09 remaining in the first quarter, the Explorers' offense was given a boost by that turnover, and it resulted in a 50-yard touchdown throw from Alberto Mendoza to Jose Leon to give them a 7-3 advantage.

Apopka intended to retaliate against Columbus, but ball security was an issue. Apopka's Zeldrick Roberts fumbled in a forced popout by Ja'Juan Bradshaw, which Jeffery Brandy recovered at the Explorers' own 43-yard line.

With 4:17 remaining in the first half after another fruitless offensive possession, Explorers defensive lineman Derrick Hart stopped Koscicki's kick from 27 yards out when he put his hands up, knocking the ball to the ground and preventing the Blue Darters from scoring.

On their following drive, Columbus would punt, but Apopka would soon be fumbling for the third time as Roberts fumbled once more after catching a pass from Tyson Davison. Daylen Russell caused that turnover, which Miles McGee recovered and returned for 19 yards with only 31 seconds remaining in the half.

Columbus promptly took advantage of the turnover, with Mendoza finding Darriel Harper for a 25-yard completion to set up a 32-yard field goal by William Allen to put the Explorers ahead 10-3 at the half.

The beginning of the third quarter was delayed by more than an hour because of local thunderstorms. When Columbus had the ball to open the second half, they were unable to move the ball, but Apopka twice roughed Explorers punter Christian de Villiers, giving the Explorers a new set of downs. Unfortunately, the Explorer offense was stymied once more, and was unable to capitalize on the penalties.

The third quarter whizzed by rather quickly due to the defensive battle. A fourth-quarter Mendoza interception gave the Blue Darters new life. Freshman quarterback, Davison, blasted it up the middle and broke several tackles along the way for a 46-yard touchdown run with 4:44 left to tie the game at 10-10. With the ball back, Columbus could not do much, punting it back to the Blue Darters.

On their final drive of the fourth quarter, Columbus was powerless and had to rely on the defense to produce all the stops necessary to keep the score at least theoretically tied. Instead, safety Ahmere Foster would make the Explorers' second-biggest play of the evening by blocking a last-second Koscicki field goal attempt from 33 yards out, which sent the game into overtime.

Columbus made the decision to start the game on defense, and the Explorers were able to contain the Blue Darters and Koscicki to a 22-yard field goal, which gave Apopka a 13-10 advantage.

When it was Columbus' turn to start the offense, they made some progress, but they were facing a third-and-goal situation from the five-yard line. Columbus head coach Dave Dunn drew up what is known as the Philly Special. The ball was handed off to to Sedrick Irvin, who then handed it to AJ Arellano on the reverse, who then found Mendoza waiting in the end zone for the score to win the state championship 16-13.

In the end, Columbus (14-1) defeated Apopka (11-4) 16-13 in overtime to win the Explorers their second state championship in four years. Both teams gave it everything they had on the field during the whole 2022 high school football season.

After the game, defensive back Ahmere Foster had this to say about the game-saving block, “We got to get a stop. We got to do something. I always wanted to get these guys a ring and let them know how it felt because I had the feeling before, but I blocked it and was excited for me and my team.”

Following the gutsy call to end the game with the Philly Special to win the state title, Cach Dunn said, “Apopka is a great football program. We just made one more play than they did. It's a great feeling. We've won our second title in four years. The most wins in team history. We'll probably have the highest ranking ever in team history. Just pretty cool.”

Ultimately, the effort the Explorers have put into their season has paid off. From lofty expectations, to even loftier goals, Columbus’ mission first and foremost was to put South Florida, and the world of high school football on notice. Through a bond of brotherhood and a standard for excellence, the Explorers have finally reached their moutaintop, and will be able to set the standard for what appears to be the next generation of Explorer ball. For now, the only thing left for the team to do: celebrate history.

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1 commentaire

David Pugh II
David Pugh II
21 déc. 2022

You captured Columbus history in the making and brought it to life in this well written article. Congratulations and thank you!

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