(9) Coral Gables (8-1) vs. (13) Columbus (7-3)
Thursday at Tropical Park, 7 p.m.

Out of all the games in the second round, this is one of the ones that I have mulled over the most.

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I’ve paid extra attention to this one because of the performance of Coral Gables in the opening round. I – incorrectly – picked the Cavaliers to lose against North Miami Beach and they not only won the game, they put up their fourth-highest point total of the season in a 47-12 victory.

The other reason I’ve hemmed and hawed about this one is the old adage: “it’s hard to beat a team twice in the same season”.

These two teams locked horns three weeks ago with the Explorers coming out on top in a 14-7 slugfest.

Thinking back on the previous matchup, neither team was able to do much offensively. Coral Gables didn’t even score an offensive touchdown – it’s one score came on an interception return.

Columbus, too, had a pick-six; but the Explorers were able to manufacture a first quarter touchdown and it ended up being the difference in the game.

Between the torrential rain that fell on the stadium and the stout defenses, there was maybe 130 combined total offensive yards gained by the teams.

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Looking at this matchup again, I see a Columbus team that is battle tested. The Explorers have lined up against some of the best teams that Miami-Dade has to offer and they’ve come out the other side better for wear because of it.

This game is going to a lot of small details, the most important of which being field position. I feel like It’s going to be tough for either team to sustain long drives against the other’s defense, so whichever team is able to create its own breaks with solid special teams plays will put itself in the best position to win.

Gables will be welcoming the healthy return of stud junior defensive back Gilbert Frierson, who missed the Cavs’ opening round game after taking a hard hit in the regular season finale. Having Frierson back in the lineup means Gables can be even more aggressive in its stacking against the run because he is more than able to patrol center field and defend against a pass over the top.

Both teams will be keying on the other’s run game – and rightfully so. Both teams look to establish the ground game early in an effort to set the tone at the line of scrimmage and take the pressure off of their quarterbacks.

Quarterback play will also be a huge factor. Coral Gables has Nick Galuppo and Columbus will put the ball in the hands of Marcelo Rodriguez. Neither has put together a spectacular statistical season, but they both can operate within the confines of their offensive systems.

I’d have to give Columbus the slight edge in the quarterback matchup and I think it’ll be a field goal – either early or late – that turns out to be the difference in this game.

Bald Prediction = Columbus wins 16-13

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