Explorers conquer Blue Darters, demons in state title win

Columbus High School stuns Apopka 21-20 in improbable comeback

MIAMI – The Explorers sought history and made it in last week’s Class 8A state football final.

With the first state title in Class 8A Columbus High School’s storied 61-year football program on the line, Coach David Dunn rolled the dice.

In front a sell-out crowd at Dayton Stadium, Dunn opted to forgo a game-tying extra point to force overtime and instead go for a game-winning two-point conversion.

Quarterback Brandon McDuffey hit Jahvar McSween in the flat. The star running back won a foot race to the pylon. The two-point try? Good.

The Explorers stunned the Blue Darters, 21-20.

“Winning in the fashion we did this year, I think this was great,” Dunn said. “The whole community and our alums, it’s our first state championship in football. It means a great deal for a lot of people.”

Winning the state championship a year after getting beaten in the same title game by Jacksonville Mandarin? Great.

However, for this game to come down to a single deciding play was in itself improbable.

Columbus (11-4) was trailing Apopka 20-7 with 4:37 left in the game.

In a must-score drive, the Explorers were facing fourth-and-10 trailing by 13. An errant snap flew over McDuffey’s head. The quarterback calmly scooped the ball up, rolled right and lofted a floater that Henry Parrish plucked out of the air as he fell to his back. The play capped an eight-play, 53-yard drive and left 3:21 on the clock.

The extra-point attempt was blocked, with Apopka up 20-13 and set to receive the ball.

A failed onside kick attempt by Columbus set up Apopka (12-2) at midfield but a series of defensive plays, plus an ill-timed personal foul penalty, forced a Blue Darters punt.

The Explorers got the ball back with 1:57 left and 80 yards to go to tie.

McDuffey responded with 7-of-10 passing and 72 yards in the drive, with the final completion a perfect six-yard pass to Parrish in the end zone with six seconds left in regulation.

The rest is history. Well, a new history for a team that was 0-4 all-time in state championship games until this season.

The win also gave Miami-Dade and Broward Counties state titles in 7-of-8 FHSAA Championship games:

Class 8A: Columbus High School (Miami)

Class 7A: St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale)

Class 6A: Central High School (Miami)

Class 5A: Northwestern (Miami)

Class 4A: Booker T. Washington (Miami)

Class 3A: Chaminade-Madonna Prep (Hollywood)

Class 2A: Champagnat Catholic (Hialeah)

Class 1A: Madison County (Madison)

About the Authors:

Saira Anwer joined the Local 10 News team in July 2018. Saira is two-time Emmy-nominated reporter and comes to South Florida from Madison, Wisconsin, where she was working as a reporter and anchor.