• Columbia receiver Marquez Bell runs up the field after a catch against Raines in the teams’ preseason classic on Aug. 18, 2017 (BRENT KUYKENDALL/Lake City Reporter).
    Columbia receiver Marquez Bell runs up the field after a catch against Raines in the teams’ preseason classic on Aug. 18, 2017 (BRENT KUYKENDALL/Lake City Reporter).

PREP FOOTBALL: CHS finally finds team for preseason classic

The Tigers will travel to IMG Academy for matchup on Aug. 17.

After weeks of searching for the right opponent, the Tigers have finally found a suitor for next Friday's preseason classic. Columbia is now scheduled to face IMG  Academy in Bradenton. Both schools finalized an agreement Tuesday morning.

For Columbia, it's arguably the school's toughest opponent ever. IMG Academy is regarded as one of the best teams in the country. The nationally-ranked football  powerhouse features 11 players rated four stars or better – in the class 2019 alone.

"If you want to be a team that talks about competing for a state final, you definitely have to be able to play a worthy opponent," Columbia coach Brian Allen said. "And see where you're at, from a vantage point of playing someone that's good. I know my kids are not going to shy away from it. We got a group of guys that definitely love to compete. We're very excited about the opportunity."

IMG Academy is ranked third in the MaxPreps national poll. It wouldn’t be the first time the Tigers came away with a big-time upset, either. Columbia was the first team from the state ever to beat a nationally-ranked team from USA Today Poll (Raines, 1982). The highest ranked team Columbia has ever faced was national No. 1 Pine Forest in the 1988 state playoffs, one of the best prep teams ever, some say.  

IMG Academy offered to host the Tigers after its previously scheduled opponent dropped out. Columbia hoped to stay in Lake City for its exhibition matchup, but with the date looming, Allen accepted the road game offer. The Tigers will hit the road for the first time since 2016 when they upset (then) top-ranked Apopka.

Columbia has won its last two preseason classics, including last year's comeback win over eventual Class 4A state champion Raines. Columbia typically faces formidable teams before the opener – but this could be its toughest test yet.

"We won't take our junior varsity on this game," Allen said. "If it was more like (preseason) games in this past, then we would definitely take the junior varsity but the plan will be to take the (starters) and backups that are on varsity to this contest. I haven't been in discussions with their head coach yet, to get the the details of the game. But you look back at past seasons when we've played someone, there was discussions about (playing) junior varsity, but it didn't take place during the game."

"We got to be smart about it in the same token. It is a classic, doesn't count for a lot. But I definitely want to see my starters for three quarters, and how they're ready to play."

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