In an era of football where the air raid passing offense is king, there’s a lot to be said for a team that lines up and runs the ball.
Good things tend to happen to teams that can run the ball – for Columbus, which lined up and ran for 269 total rushing Thursday night, that good thing was a 28-14 playoff victory over visiting South Dade in the region 4-8A semifinals at Tropical Park.
Sophomore running back Henry Parrish accounted for 176 of those yards as the Explorers (10-1) will get to have practice on Thanksgiving Day before they host either Miami High or Southridge next Friday in the region 4-8A final.
When South Dade capitalized on an Explorers fumble – with Donnie Harrison returning it 4 yards for a touchdown – to chop its deficit down to 20-14 with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, it was Parrish who salted the game away for Columbus on the ensuing drive with a 53-yard scamper down to the 1-yard line and finished it off with a scoring plunge and two-point conversion to put Columbus ahead 28-14 with 1:59 left in the game.
Columbus head coach Chris Merritt, the current longest tenured head coach at one school in Miami-Dade County, congratulated his team on advancing to the third round after the game – something the Explorers have done in three out of the past four seasons.
“And then there were eight,” Merritt said to his team, which hasn’t lost a game since September 1st. “You’ve earned the right to play for a regional championship.”
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Parrish carried the ball 23 times Thursday and routinely found running room behind the Explorers offensive line – especially in the second half, when he racked up 129 of his 176 yards.
Merritt said Parrish’s success came from film study and game planning.
“We saw on film that we could have success against [South Dade’s] defensive front,” Merritt said. “We knew we’d be able to feature Henry a bit tonight and have success running the ball.”
Aside from Parrish, the Explorers also got 97 rushing yards from senior quarterback Anthony Arguellas. When the Buccaneers began keying on Parrish, it was Arguellas who made plays with his legs on read-option pulls – including one play that fooled the entire South Dade defense and allowed him to stroll into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown and give Columbus a 17-7 lead at halftime.
Arguellas was also 14 for 27 with 133 passing yards while junior receiver Kalani Norris hauled in a game-high five catches for 70 yards and a score.
South Dade (9-2) wanted to earn that right, too – but penalties coupled with missed opportunities was its downfall.
The Buccaneers were flagged for 17 penalties for 156 yards and turned the ball over three times – a first-quarter fumble that set up a 43-yard Norris touchdown reception and two second-half interceptions.
Bucs freshman quarterback Torey “Scooter” Morrison flashed the athleticism that made him a varsity standout early in his career, but he also showed the inexperience that comes along with being an underclassman.
Morrison finished the night 11-of-21 for 173 yards while rushing for a team-high 24 yards. Overall, South Dade struggled on offense – only mustering 222 total yards of offense and just nine first downs.
South Dade head coach Nate Hudson said, despite the loss, he’s encouraged and excited by the future of his program.
“I told Torey not to put his head down about what happened tonight…for him to be a freshman and to lead us to this point says a lot,” Hudson said. “We return about 80 percent of our team, so the future is bright for us.”
Columbus’ future is also bright because it controls its own destiny in a Class 8A bracket that was turned upside down by the first-round exits of Broward County powerhouses Deerfield Beach and Miramar.
While his team racked up 19 first downs Thursday, Merritt knows his team must clean up its play and cannot commit 16 penalties like it also did Thursday.
“I’m not going to say anything about the officiating,” Merritt began. “But I will say that playoff teams don’t commit that many penalties and we have to do a better job of playing clean and making sure we only go forward and not backward.”