Nate Hudson knew his team had a tough challenge in facing unbeaten Columbus.
South Dade stayed close early, got behind, and threatened just enough late to keep the Explorers from getting comfortable.
However, in the end Henry Parrish and the Explorers proved to be too much handing South Dade a 54-28 loss in the Class 8A regional final ending their season with a 10-3 record—the most since winning 10 in 2015.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge, they’re well-coached, a good team, but we also knew that we had the material to compete,” Hudson said. “Obviously we got off to a good start like the way we wanted it, but it was just really about managing our composure and once we got deep into the game some things unraveled.”
Parrish, a junior, rushed for 216 of the Explorers’ 303 yards and scored four total touchdowns.
“They did a great job especially in the run game and kept us off-balanced a little bit, kept us on our heels,” Hudson said. “We knew coming in we had to play the extra effort. Certain teams you can probably have them down, but in this case here they have two good running backs and they did a great job.”
Despite the disappointing result, there were positives for the Buccaneers as junior Jaiden Francois tied a Miami-Dade County record with his 12th interception of the season, senior Demetrius Burns threw for a season-high 340 yards, senior Najeh Baker posted a season-high 129 receiving yards, and senior All-American Frank Ladson caught his 18th touchdown pass in his two seasons at South Dade.
South Dade started the scoring when Burns threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Baker for a 6-0 lead.
However, Parrish responded with a 21-yard touchdown catch from Brandon McDuffey and then had a 12-yard touchdown run for a 14-6 lead.
On the first play after the touchdown run, Burns threw a swing pass to Melchelzadek Mathews, which fell to the ground. Columbus’s Jabari Ishmael alertly picked up the ball and the referees ruled the play a fumble on a backwards pass. McDuffey found Michael Cruz-Bustillo in the end zone on the next play for a 20-6 lead.
“After talking to the officials they felt like his arm went forward—we didn’t see that,” Hudson said. “They made a call. We’ve got to live with the results. I know it was early, but it was definitely a game-changer.”
South Dade played catch up the rest of the way pulling within two scores twice at 30-14 and 37-22 to end the third quarter, but Columbus had an answer for every Bucs’ score.
“At the end of the day we showed a lot of fight and that’s all we can ask,” Hudson said. “That’s what we represent here at South Dade. I couldn’t ask for much more.”
Columbus (13-0) also piled up 207 yards passing from McDuffey to become the first team this season to go over 400 yards of total offense against South Dade finishing with 510.
“I just wish that we could have gave the offense a little bit more opportunities,” Hudson said.
“I know some things we did defensively we shot ourselves in the foot, but at the end of the day the defense did a hell of a job all season so I’m not going to sit here and berate on what did transpire. Some things happened and obviously we’ve got to work out some of those glitches moving forward.”
It was the third time in four years South Dade had lost to Columbus in the state playoffs.
“You’ve got to give hats off where it’s due,” Hudson said.
“I just look forward to the next year.”