23/04/2024

Mandarin can’t slow down Columbus in Class 4M title game

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Mandarin can’t slow down Columbus in Class 4M title game

On the anniversary of the most memorable night in Mandarin football history, Miami Columbus settled the score.

On the anniversary of the most memorable night in Mandarin football history, Miami Columbus settled the score.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On the anniversary of the most memorable night in Mandarin football history, Miami Columbus settled the score.

The Explorers diced Mandarin’s defense from open to close and denied the Mustangs a second championship on the five-year anniversary of their first one in a 38-19 win over Mandarin in the Class 4M title game at Florida A&M on Friday. The Mustangs finished 11-4 and will enter 2024 as favorites for another extended playoff run — in whatever new postseason system the FHSAA decides on — behind a slew of blue chip prospects.

They just didn’t have an answer for Columbus and quarterback Alberto Mendoza, who passed for 149 yards and rushed for 138 more and led the Explorers to scores on six of their 10 drives. Two of those ended in clock-killing kneeldowns.

Tramell Jones fired two touchdown passes to Jaime Ffrench Jr., the latter a 30-yard catch, spin and run move midway through the second quarter to get the Mustangs within 28-19. But Mandarin missed a field goal and lost a fumble on the ensuing drives as the Explorers slammed the door closed on a storybook finish effort by the Mustangs. Mandarin became the first team in area history to win four consecutive road playoff games.

Jones finished 19 of 27 passing for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Ffrench (7 catches, 101 yards). Tiant Wyche had 11 carries for 94 yards and Deshard Westcott had 70 yards on 13 carries.

Mandarin had a massive drive before halftime to claw its way back into the game. Columbus was dicing up the Mustangs and barreling in for what should have been another touchdown before Mandarin’s defense turned in a massive momentum swing.

Agyeman Addae had a 17-yard run that went down to the Mandarin 13 before Jon Mitchell ripped the ball loose on the tackle. Mitchell recovered it and the Mustangs put together an 87-yard scoring drive that Wyche capped with a 21-yard scoring run on a fourth-and-1 play to slice the deficit to 21-13.

But Columbus opened the second half with a touchdown and had points on two of its next three drives to take control and end Mandarin’s historic run away from Jacksonville.

The Explorers scored on drives of seven and four plays to drop Mandarin into a 14-0 hole midway through the opening quarter. Jones hit Ffrench on a 15-yard touchdown to get the Mustangs within 14-6 but Columbus answered with another quick scoring drive to push that lead back. The Explorers needed 18 plays for those three touchdown drives.

On Dec. 8, 2018, Mandarin got a sterling performance from quarterback Carson Beck, the eventual Mr. Football winner, and four touchdown catches from DeMario Douglas to stun Columbus 37-35 in one of the best championship games in FHSAA history.

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