PREP FOOTBALL: Columbia stuns IMG Academy
BRADENTON – The odds were stacked against Columbia when its football team stepped on the field to face the No.1 ranked team in the USA Today's Super 25.
But the fearless Tigers refused to be intimated as they pounced on IMG Academy early Friday night. The star-studded Ascenders – equipped with over a dozen blue-chip prospects – were overwhelmed by Columbia's locomotive offense.
Columbia quarterback Jordan Smith finished with five touchdowns, all coming in the first half. Starters on both teams were pulled after third quarter's opening drive but the hot start was enough for Columbia to outlast IMG Academy 33-20.
IMG Academy's non-starters managed to score 10 more points in the second half against Columbia's non-starters. But it didn't matter – it was already clear, the Tigers will be a force to deal with this season after toppling the football giant.
"From the time this game was scheduled, my guys never really wavered, never questioned why – they were excited about the opportunity," Columbia head coach Brian Allen said after the game. "I think they had confidence in the gameplan. When they had an opportunity to watch film on them, the mystique of who this team is went away, and they knew they could (compete) against them. We try to make these kids believe the way we work is far different than the way anybody else works. It doesn't matter the facilities that you have, weights are weights."
Smith, who tallied 254 passing yards, opened his junior campaign with 80-yard touchdown drive which ended in a 7-yard catch by wide-out Jaden Williams. Five minutes later he connected with senior Bobby Fulton for a 6-yard touchdown. He went back to Fulton for another score under a minute left in the first quarter. The Tigers dismantled the Ascenders in the opening period, three for three on scoring drives in the first quarter.
"Coach Allen gave us a little (pre-game) talk before we came out here and we just executed," Smith said after the game. "We just played hard. We have a passion for this game. Columbia strong."
Columbia wide receiver Marquez Bell's diving 28-yard touchdown catch midway through the second quarter added insult to injury as the Tigers pushed to a 27-0 advantage. It was one of two touchdowns on the night for the junior star receiver.
IMG Academy finally cut into its deficit on the ensuing drive when running back Noah Cain punched in a 3-yard score before returning to the end zone on a 70-yard run with less than two minutes before intermission.
The Tigers held a 33-13 lead at the break. IMG Academy running back Trey Sanders registered a 30-yard touchdown run on the final series among starters in the third. Despite the score, the Tigers managed to keep the state's highest rated back to under 50 yards rushing – an impressive performance by the defense.
"For us to not even be ranked and beat the No.3 team in the nation (MaxPreps), it feels really good," safety Ahmad Williams said. "We beat them boys by a good (amount). We kept God first, and with God on our side, He can bring us through anything. I feel like we can beat any team now. That's where our confidence is."
The Tigers don't have too much time to celebrate after knocking off a team considered by several media outlets as the best in the nation. Columbia quickly turns its attention to the first one that actually counts: Gainesville. The Tigers travel to Citizen's Field this coming Thursday night, looking for its sixth-straight victory over its longtime rival.
"Gainesville is going to see a powerful defense and a scoring offense," Williams added. "We're about to bring it to them."