Home Sports Columbus uses ‘Philly Special’ variation to win Class 4M championship in overtime

Columbus uses ‘Philly Special’ variation to win Class 4M championship in overtime

Columbus uses ‘Philly Special’ variation to win Class 4M championship in overtime

FORT LAUDERDALE — Every Columbus player knew what was coming.

Trailing by three points and faced with 3rd-and-goal at the 5-yard line in the first overtime of the Class 4M state championship against Apopka, the time was right for “Explorer.”

In the Columbus version of the famed Philadelphia Eagles’ “Philly Special,” quarterback Alberto Mendoza handed the ball off to running back Sedrick Irvin who pitched it to wide receiver AJ Arellano who then threw a picture-perfect pass to Mendoza in the corner of the end zone.

Touchdown. Ball game. State championship.

The Explorers (14-1) beat Apopka (11-4) 16-13 in an instant classic at DRV PNK Stadium on Saturday night. It was the second FHSAA state championship to go to overtime in eight days; prior to that it had been a dozen years since a championship game went beyond the fourth quarter.

Columbus players celebrate after the winning the Class 4M state championship, 16-13 in overtime against Apopka, on Saturday at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

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“The crazy part about it is that I used to be a quarterback,” Arellano said. “I came to Columbus and I wasn’t able to start (at quarterback) as a sophomore or junior, so I made the decision I made for us. Honestly, it was the best decision of my life.

“And I still got to throw the game-winning, state final touchdown pass.”

Columbus practiced the play daily this week as one of the team’s three potential two-point plays. Explorers coach Dave Dunn said they were in the right spot on the field to call the play.

“The kids really liked it and the reason is AJ played quarterback for us his sophomore year and he’s one of the fastest players on our team and one of the better athletes in our school,” Dunn said. “We felt really good that even if they covered it, he could run it in. We felt it just gave us more than one option. So, we worked on it all week long. Alberto dropped it a couple times. He didn’t drop it when it counted, so that was the key thing.”

Mendoza had just one thought going through his mind as the ball was in the air: Don’t drop it!

“I was a little nervous at first,” he said. “I’m like, ‘I’m not a receiver, am I going to catch this?’ But we practiced it all week, I hadn’t dropped one, so I was excited.”

Apopka had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Columbus blocked the Blue Darters 33-yard field goal attempt as time expired. It was the second field goal block of the game for the Explorers.

“It’s simple,” Apopka coach Jeff Rolson said. “One of those blocked kicks we only had 10 guys out there. It doesn’t matter. It’s real simple. Football’s a real simple game. You’ve got to block, tackle, hold on to the football. We coughed the ball up, we gave scoring opportunities, squandered scoring opportunities, got kicks blocked and then we gave up one big play on defense for a touchdown and then we end up in overtime. I don’t know what to say. It is what it is. It’s happened to us before.”

Apopka opened the scoring with a 22-yard field goal by Hayden Koscicki on its opening drive. Columbus responded later in the quarter when Mendoza connected with Jose Leon on a 50-yard pass to take a 7-3 lead. The Explorers tacked on a field goal in the second quarter and the score remained 10-7 until the fourth quarter.

Apopka freshman quarterback Tyson Davison broke free for a 46-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 10 with 4:44 remaining in regulation. Davison led all rushers with 139 yards and also completed five passes for 52 yards.


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