REPLAY: Cocoa Tigers Lose Class 4A State Title To Raines Vikings 13-10
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Assistant Editor // December 8, 2017
Raines vs Cocoa, kickoff at 7 p.m.
AUDIO REPLAY: Friday Night Locker Room’s Orville Susong and Steve Wilson, and Space Coast Daily’s Alan Zlotorzynzki bring you the Cocoa Tigers vs. Raines Vikings in the FHSAA Class 4A State Finals.
SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Friday Night Locker Room’s Orville Susong and Steve Wilson, along with Space Coast Daily’s Alan Zlotorzynzki, bring you the Beef O Brady’s Kickoff Show from Camping World Stadium in Orlando to discuss the Cocoa Tigers state title game, which is set for 7 p.m. tonight.
SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Alan Zlotorzynzki covers the arrival of the Cocoa Tigers to Camping World Stadium as the Tigers take on Raines for the Class 4A state football championship.
CLASS 4A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
Raines Vikings (12-1) vs. Cocoa Tigers (11-1)
GAME TIME, LOCATION & TICKET INFO
When: Thursday, December 7
Where: Camping World Stadium, Orlando
Kickoff: 7:07 p.m. EST
Tickets: $12 General Admission, $17 Reserved Seating — purchase online at ticketmaster.com
RADIO, TELEVISION & ONLINE INFO
- Pregame Show: Space Coast Daily TV— LIVE at 6;00 p.m. EST (Alan Zlotorzynski)
- Game Broadcast: Spectrum Sports, Channel 1147 in Spectrum coverage areas
- Audio Stream: Space Coast Daily TV— LIVE at 6:55 p.m. EST (Steve Wilson & Orville Susong)
- Social Media Updates: Space Coast Daily Facebook, on Twitter — @SpaceCoastDaily
- Quarterly Updates, Halftime, Postgame Recap: Space Coast Daily Facebook
- Head Coach: Deran Wiley (Career Record at Raines 71-25)
- Road To Orlando: d. North Bay Haven, 43-0 (Regional Semifinals); d. West Nassau, 57-15 (Regional Finals); d. Bradford, 53-13 (State Semifinals)
- Last State Championship Game Appearance: 2015 (Class 4A)
- Playoff History: Raines is 26-31 in playoff games including one state championship finish in 1997 (Class 4A) and two runner-up finishes in 1973 (Class 4A) and 2015 (Class 4A)
- Rankings: No. 2 in final Associated Press Florida high school football poll
Top Players To Watch: QB Ivory Durham IV, Sr.; RB Brandon Marshall, Sr.; WR/DB George Webb, Sr.; WR Kamaree Noble, Sr.; LB Elijah Spivey, Sr.; SS Diop Kee, Sr.; LB Javon Bonsell, Jr.
- Head Coach: John Wilkinson (Career record at Cocoa 142-26)
- Road To Orlando: d. Lake Placid, 63-0 (Regional Semifinals); d. Avon Park, 62-7 (Regional Finals); d. University School, 49-14 (State Semifinals)
- Last State Championship Game Appearance: 2016 (Class 4A)
- Playoff History: Cocoa is 37-14 in playoff games including four state championship finishes in 2008 (Class 3A), 2009 (Class 2A), 2010 (Class 2A), and 2016 (Class 4A)
- Rankings: No. 1 in final Associated Press Florida high school football poll
Top Players To Watch: RB Javaian Hawkins, Sr.; RB Willie Gaines, Jr.; OL Josh Padrick, Sr.; DL Howard Stewart, Sr.; LB John Smith, Sr.; LB Zach Beagle, Sr.; DB Tri-marea Charles, Sr.
ORLANDO, FLORIDA — The Cocoa Tigers are heading back to Orlando for the fifth time in 10-years. Their 12-straight state semifinal appearances is believed to be a Florida High School Athletic Association record, yet when speaking with the Tigers and head coach John Wilkinson, you get the impression this is their first trip—that’s how humbled but yet still very hungry the Tigers are for a second straight FHSAA Class 4A title and fifth state championship overall.
Their opponent is the Raines Vikings from Jacksonville and they are equally as hungry.
Remarkably, Raines is the only public school team from the big city that has won a state championship in football. Duvall County public schools are 1-7 in the big games and that title was won by Raines came way back in 1997. Bolles, a private school located in Jacksonville and the Tigers opponent last year in the title game has won 11 state championships but considering the talent that plays in the public schools it is hard to comprehend only one championship.
Brevard County schools are seeking the 15th title in football. Cocoa has won four times, including three in a row from 2008-2010 and then once getting past Booker T. after five tries last year in the state semi-finals, returned to the top of the podium at the Citrus Bowl.
The Tigers quest for a fifth won’t be easy, at least not according to Tigers head coach John Wilkinson.
“Raines is a very good team and they will give us problems,” said John Wilkinson.
“They present challenges all over the field. They can spread you out or run the ball down your throat.”
Wilkinson went onto to say,” On defense they like to attack, they have speed all over the field and use it well.”
Wilkinson and the Tigers have had 13 days to prepare, so it’s a safe bet Cocoa is rested and more than ready to try place a ring on coach Wilkinson’s thumb, the only finger on one hand currently not occupied with a state championship ring.
Raines enters the game with a well-balanced offense that is averaging 45 points per game and one that’s amassed 5,437 all-purpose yards and hit pay dirt 73 times on offense. Cocoa, whose offense isn’t too shabby either, put up 4,783 yards and scored 63 touchdowns and while that is 654-yards less than what the Vikings turned in, Cocoa played in one less game.
When you peel back the layers, Raines (418.2 YPG) is only averaging 19.7 yards more per game than Cocoa (398.5).
Quarterback / Receivers
Raines loves to throw the ball and they have a quarterback whose mechanics and vision for a high school senior are as good as it gets in Ivory Durham IV. The Valdosta State commit is averaging 230 passing yards per game while completing 71 percent of his passes. He has accounted for 34 passing touchdowns while adding an additional nine touchdowns on the ground.
Durham’s pass catchers are George Webb (SR), Kamaree Nobel (SR), and Matt Drayton (JR).
Webb is averaging 26.2 yards per catch for a total of 707 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. Nobel is averaging 15.7 yards per catch for a total of 628 yards and eight touchdowns on the season while Drayton is averaging 17.8 yards per catch for a total of 463 yards and four touchdowns on the season.
Cocoa doesn’t throw the ball (82 yards per game) often but as they showed in the state semifinal game, can throw it for points. QB Bradley Cantrell tossed two TD’s and got the job done with his feet as he rushed for another touchdown in the contest. Cantrell doesn’t make mistakes when he does throw the ball as he has just one interceptions and 15 TD passes this season.
Again, Cocoa doesn’t throw the ball much but they do have quality wideouts in seniors Rashean Lynn, who caught both Cantrell touchdowns against University and Connor Perrine who transferred into Cocoa with Cantrell from Space Coast
ANALYSIS: The Tigers have the speed in the secondary to neutralize or limit the Vikings passing attack but it will require more discipline than usual. Rockledge’s Jashaun Corbin gave the Tigers fits running from the QB position, which Durham can do well when things break down and Cocoa also showed a vulnerability to the long ball at times this season. Trinity Christian got over the top a few times in week one and Universities first half touchdown came on a mix up in coverage.
Raines has not faced a team that can defend like the Tigers. Tigers Defensive coordinator Lance Jenkins is a master at adjusting. If a player in the Tigers secondary is struggling, they can immediately find one that won’t.
Matchups to Watch:
Cocoa DB Caziah Holmes vs. WR George Webb or WR Kamaree Noble
Cocoa Def Athlete Howard Stewart vs. QB Ivory Durham
If somehow the Tigers shut down the passing attack, Raines has a formidable ground game, which if it gets going, will open the passing lanes.
With that said, the backfield isn’t as deep as the guys that catch the ball. The Vikings rely heavily on one player, running back Brandon Marshall. The 5’9” 185-pound junior rushed for more than 1500 yards on the season while nearly averaging a first down every time he touched the ball (9.6 yards per carry). Marshall also has a nose for the endzone scoring 21 touchdowns so far in 2017.
The Tigers are the crème of the rushing attack crop. Anyone they put in the backfield gains yards. They all aren’t as capable as Javian Hawkins or Willie Gaines at doing so just yet but the Tigers know how to run the ball. Of the 4,783 total yards of offense the Tigers put up this season, 3,764 came on the ground.
Before being slowed by an injury in the final game of the year and missing nearly all of the playoffs, Louisville Cardinal commit Jay Hawkins rushed for 1,737 yards and 20 touchdowns. His counterpart, junior Willie Gaines, stepped into the starting role and all he’s done is rush for 602 yards and eight touchdowns in three playoff games.
The duo have combined to rush for 3,049 yards and 34 touchdowns from the Cocoa backfield so far in 2017.
ANALYSIS: As Bolles quickly learned in last year’s title game, the Tigers are explosive. Hawkins put Cocoa ahead for good with a 70-yard TD run on the Tigers first possession as Cocoa rushed for over 400 yards in the game. Raines must tackle well and not give up pursuit until the whistle blows.
Cocoa was held to under 200 rushing once all season (Mainland) and rushed for 503 yards against Bartram Trail, who is playing for the Class 7A title this week. Until the Tigers are slowed or stopped, it’s hard not to give them the clear advantage here.
Matchups to Watch:
Cocoa RB’s Willie Gaines and Jay Hawkins vs. Raines LB’s Elijah Spivey and Jovan Bonsell
Cocoa C Josh Padrick and G’s Hunter Gfell and Zach Brasher vs Raines DL Janorris Robertson and Roderick Billingslea
The Raines defense has been stout throughout the year on its way to surrendering only 8.5 points per game.
The Vikings have been dominating from the line of scrimmage to the Secondary. Janorris Robertson (JR) and Roderick Billingslea (SR) lead the way up front for the defense. They have sacked opposing quarterbacks 55 times this season. Robertson has accounted for 33 tackles and eight sacks while Billingslea has added 37 tackles and 10 sacks. The Linebacker core is led by Elijah Spivey (SR) and Jovan Bonsell (JR). Spivey has accounted for 62 tackles and 4 sacks while Bonsell has racked up a total of 69 tackles, 10 sacks, and one interception returned for a touchdown.
The Secondary is led by Raynell Killian (SR), Dylan Schofield (SR), and Diop Kee (SR). Killian leads the way with 3 interceptions and 37 tackles. Kee has accounted for 52 tackles while Schofield has contributed 21 tackles and several pass breakups.
Cocoa’s defense has faced some pretty formidable competition in 2017. They faced seven playoff teams this season and went 6-1 against them. They held Trinity Christian and Bartram Trail to 21-points, shutout last year’s Class 2A state champ Pahokee, held perennial state contender Mainland to seven points and held Viera and Rockledge to a combined 20-points in regulation play.
The names to watch for are Howard Stewart (52 total tackles, 2 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR), John Smith (68 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 FR), Zach Beagle (76 total tackles, 1 FF), Tri-marea Charles (56 total tackles, 5 sacks), Caziah Holmes (25 tackles, 12 passes defended) and if need be, Jay Hawkins plays a pretty mean defensive back.
ANALYSIS: Cocoa’s defense has shut down some of the best RB’s around all season and especially in the playoffs. They held Miami Hurricane commit Kenny Mcintosh to 50-yards and 40 of those came on one play in the first quarter. They held both Avon Park RB’s to 57 total rushing yards and Lake Placid to 45.
Whether it’s in the air or on the ground, Raines won’t beat Cocoa with a one-dimensional game– they will need to be able to run the ball to open passing lanes and buy time for Durham. No one has done it yet and it is hard to believe it will happen in this game.
This one is easy, Cocoa has one of the best long snappers in the country in Clay James and kicker Alex Petruzzello has been a high school version of Lega-Tron this year. His 90 points are third on the team and he’s hit nine of 11 field goal attempts while converting 68 of 69 extra points this year.
Raines doesn’t kick field goals. Senior kicker Ishmael Sanders is two of three on the season with 59 made extra points. But he’s also missed 15 kicks following Raines touchdowns this year.
Both teams have athletes in the return game capable of scoring on every kickoff or punt, so playing disciplined on special teams by staying in lanes and fighting off blocks is key here.
Raines head coach Deran Wiley has re-established Raines as a Jacksonville powerhouse. Wiley is 71-25 (.739) and making his second finals trip in three years. In that contest, Raines led Booker T. heading into the fourth quarter but fell apart and lost 43-23. The problem for Raines is that they have not faced a team of Cocoa’s caliber since week one of the regular season when they lost to a Jacksonville rival, Lee high school, 20-16.
Like the Tigers, the Vikings have rolled into the state finals. They have outscored their opponents in three playoff games 153-28. As noted earlier, the Tigers faced seven playoff teams in 2017 and were 6-1 against them, Raines faced two and went 1-1. The combined record of Raines’ opponents this past season was 71-73 (.493) while Cocoa’s foes were a combined 85-42 (669).
The strength of your schedule matters is high school football. Ask the Viera who played no one and went undefeated in 2014 and were shutout in round one while the next year the Hawks played six playoff teams, including a USA Top 5 team, lost to four of them but made it to the Class 7A finals.
Rockledge this year was better prepared to beat Cocoa based on the fact their three early season losses came to teams who lost once all year combined. Entering the title game against Cocoa last year Bolles wasn’t even in the top ten toughest schedules in Class 4A, while Cocoa’s was ranked 16th statewide. The experience and toughness of schedule showed as Cocoa routed the Bulldogs 34-17.
The only team in this year’s Class 4A Top 10 rankings with a lower strength of schedule than Raines is Bradford, who the Vikings beat, 53-13 in the other state semifinal game to reach Orlando.
Cocoa, who played the third toughest schedule in Class 4A’s Top 10 has outscored their opponents in this year’s playoff run 175-29 and beat University 49-14 in the state semifinal. The Sharks owned the second toughest strength of schedule in the top 10 in Class 4A behind Booker T and Cocoa dominated University from start to finish.
The Tigers need to be wary of the many weapons Raines possesses and not forget the whole saying that anything can happen on any given day. But give John Wilkinson and his great staff two weeks to prepare and the Tigers could probably hang with the Cleveland Browns.
While that’s a comparrison meant to make a point, there isn’t much Raines will do Cocoa won’t be ready for. Factor in the prep time with being able to get healthier and coming off a season in which the Tigers played another grueling schedule and it’s hard not to favor and pick the Tigers to win back-to-back titles, their fifth overall FHSAA state championship.
COCOA 40 RAINES 21
I’m not alone in my belief that Cocoa is going to win. None of the 11 Florida high school football pundits below picked Raines to beat the Tigers as well.
OTHER PREDICITIONS (Courtesy of Florida High School Football)
USA TODAY High School Sports Score Predictor: Cocoa 35, Raines 24
- Joshua Wilson, FloridaHSFootball.com: Cocoa 38, Raines 27
- Will Turner, FloridaHSFootball.com: Cocoa 42, Raines 30
- Bill Hammel, Irish Bill’s Twist On Sports: Cocoa 31, Raines 21
- Mike Ridaught, The Prep Zone: Cocoa 24, Raines 20
- Marty Pallman, The Prep Zone: Cocoa 30, Raines 27
- Larry Savage, Gainesville Sun: Cocoa 28, Raines 20
- Corey Davis, DuvalSports.com: Cocoa 24, Raines 17
- Doug Pugh, Big County Preps: Cocoa 30, Raines 27
- Jake Perper, Prep Sports Scouting: Cocoa 35, Raines 27
- Joel Hillsman, Total Sports Coverage: Cocoa 27, Raines 20
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