VIDEO: Coaching Changes, Overtime Football, Soccer Titles, Top Local Sports Stories of 2017
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Assistant Editor // January 1, 2018
SPACE COAST DAILY TV SPECIAL PRESENTATION
ABOVE VIDEO: 2017 Year In Review: The moments that shaped the sports year.
From a national perspective, sports took a major body blow in 2017. The NFL player protests, college basketball and far too many off the playing field issues clouded our love for the games we once cherished and followed daily.
Locally, it was a strange year but a year that produced some great games and some surprising coaching changes that still have people asking, “did that really happen?”
Below are many of those stories, some you remember, some you don’t. The link attached is the corresponding story that appeared right here on Space Coast Daily.
If someone told you in August that Florida State would be done with their bowl game before New Year’s Day, the Florida Gators would not qualify for a bowl game, the UCF Knights are undefeated and playing in a New Year’s Six game, and all three schools would have new coaches before December 31, you would have seriously wondered about the sanity of the individual telling you that.
But that’s exactly the case, as FSU, UF and UCF all have new head coaches and the Knights are facing SEC powerhouse Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
The Gators job opened first. Jim McElwain, who finished 22-12 at UF parted ways a day after the Gators were blown out by Georgia and following a week in which Coach Mac made unsubstantiated claims that he and players had received death threats.
Failing to develop an offense, getting blown out in two SEC Championship games and having 10 players suspended also had something to do with Coach Mac’s departure.
The Gators hired a familiar face in Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. Mullen spent four seasons under Urban Meyer at UF mentoring Chris Leak, Tim Tebow and two national championship-winning offenses.
ABOVE VIDEO: Back in May, Space Coast Daily’s Alan Zlotorzynski had an opportunity to speak with former FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher at the Brevard Seminole Club’s reception and dinner at the Eau Gallie Yacht Club. Fisher spoke about Brevard County and the potential for the 2017 season. Ironically, Fisher also discussed “his future” in Tallahassee.
With a victory in the Independence Bowl, Florida State finished their season 7-6 and without head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Fisher left for the “greener” pastures of Texas A&M six days before the Seminoles played in their final game of the season, a makeup game from Hurricane Irma, which FSU needed to win to become bowl eligible.
Rumored to be leaving after last season when LSU fired Les Miles, Fisher took the money and ran to College Station. Fisher did deliver while in Tallahassee. FSU won the National Championship in 2013, was 18-2 against in-state opponents, including a combined 14-2 mark against the Gators and Canes and his 83 wins are the third-most in college football since 2010.
FSU hired Bradenton, Florida native Willie Taggart to replace Fisher. The former USF coach spent just one season coaching the Oregon Ducks only to leave to return to what Taggart calls his dream job in Tallahassee.
Taggart’s career record of 47-51 may be deceiving as he took over two struggling programs. He had two 2-win seasons before turning both Western Kentucky and USF into winning programs. In Tampa, he flipped the Bulls from 2-10 to 10-2 in just three seasons
As impressive as that sounds, it pales in comparison to what now Nebraska head coach Scott Frost did at UCF in just two years. The Knights finished 0-12 two years ago and with a victory over Auburn can finish 13-0 this season.
ABOVE VIDEO: On the day he was announced as the new head coach at UCF in 2015, now Nebraska head coach, Scott Frost spoke with Space Coast Daily to discuss his coaching journey, influential people and lays down his pitch to athletes in Florida. (Zach Clark, Space Coast Daily)
Unfortunately, Frost’s tenure in Central Florida is over as he accepted the top job at his alma mater Nebraska the day the Knights won the American Athletic Conference Championship over Memphis. In an unprecedented move, Frost will coach the Knights against Auburn.
UCF’s search was short and they ultimately hired Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel as the new head coach. The 39-year-old Heupel played quarterback on the Sooners’ national championship team in 2000 and was the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
At the high school level, Viera High School Athletic Director Chris Gallagher announced on Nov. 30 that Hawks head football coach Kevin Mays stepped down to accept a new position with Osceola County Public Schools as athletic director of the new Tohopokeliga High School, which will open next August.
Mays took over the Hawks football team in 2011 and went 44-23 in the regular season and 7-4 in postseason play with one trip to the state finals in 2015. Derek Smith, the team’s defensive coordinator was named as Mays’ replacement.
Smith and Mays were childhood friends and have coached side by side in all but four of the last 21 years. Smith was formerly the head coach at Bayside where the Bears reached the FHSAA state region football finals in 2009 and 2010.
As one of the best publishers anywhere says to me all the time, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
ABOVE VIDEO: Space Coast Daily speaks with the Viera Hawks new head coach, Derek Smith.
Many of the best games of the year took place on the gridiron and some of them here in Florida.
The Cocoa Tigers had not lost to a team in the 321-area code since October 10, 2008, when the Merritt Island Mustangs beat the Tigers 15-14 on a last second two-point conversion. The numbers are staggering– The 3,311 days, 42 straight wins and four state titles later Cocoa finally was upended by a team on the Space Coast.
Former Cocoa Tiger quarterback Wayne Younger and his Rockledge Raiders needed double overtime to beat the Tigers but they did so in what many are calling the best regular season game ever played in Brevard County. After holding Cocoa to a field goal to start the second overtime, sophomore Ladarius Tennison scored on a two-yard touchdown run to give the Raiders their first win over Cocoa since November 4, 2005, or 4,382 days ago.
ABOVE VIDEO: Final Minutes of Cocoa vs Rockledge in a battle for bragging rights in the annual Bar-B-Q Bowl.
For the record, the Cocoa Tigers and Viera Hawks played a pretty memorable double OT thriller as well. Cocoa prevailed in that contest after Viera dominated much of the game.
At the college level, UCF defeated Memphis, 62-55 in double overtime back on December 3 to win the AAC Championship game and finish the regular season at 12-0, just two years after finishing 0-12.
The 117 points were the most ever scored in a conference championship game in college football history. UCF and Memphis combined to score 117 points, amassing 1,479 yards of total offense, and score 15 touchdowns. Shortly after the game Knights head coach Scott Frost was announced as the new head coach at Nebraska.
Led by Head coach Scott Carswell, the Merritt Island Mustangs soccer team finished last season unbeaten (20-0-1) and cashed in on their fourth straight trip to the state’s final four, as they won the 3A FHSAA State Soccer Championship.
They did so in dramatic when sophomore Jordan Michales sealed the victory with the Mustangs fourth penalty kick goal in overtime.
The West Shore boys’ soccer team capped off a 20-4 season by winning the Class 2A State Soccer championship. Head coach Bob Robidoux’s team defeated Tampa’s Berkley Prep 1-0 to claim the title.
A couple of Brevard County schools reached the finals of the state championship but came up just short.
Led by head coach Julius Reid, the Florida Prep Academy Falcons fell just short of winning the Class 2A State Title back in March. The Falcons led Miami Christian throughout much of the contest but a shooting drought at the wrong time of the contest allowed the eventual winners a final shot which they hit to win the game at the buzzer.
Earlier this month, the Cocoa Tigers quest for a fifth state title fell short. The Tigers committed a few uncharacteristic mistakes and could not crack the front seven of the Raines Vikings rushing for less than 100 yards in the contest. Raines from Jacksonville beat Cocoa in the Class 4A state football finals, 13-10
With head coach Justin Andrade at the helm, the Florida Tech swimming program reeled in their first national championship in program history in the men’s 200 freestyle relay competition. The relay team of Nir Barnea, Victor Rocha Furtado, Matthew Gallene and Filip Dujmic set a school mark record and securing the program’s first national title with a time of 1:19.46.
The Eastern Florida State Titans Men’s basketball team reached the NJCAA National Championship game in Hutchinson Kansas. Although they didn’t win, the team established a school record with 31 wins, won their fifth consecutive regular-season conference tournament and made it to the finals of the conference and national tournament, the national finals was also a program first.
The Knights football team doesn’t get all of the accolades. Led by new head coach Johnny Dawkins, UCF reached the Final 4 of the NIT last March.
The Florida Gators baseball team captured the NCAA College World Series title for the first time in program history. Florida (52-19) went 2-0 in the CWS Finals to defeat LSU. With the title, Florida is one of six schools to win a national championship in baseball, basketball and football, joining Cal, Michigan, Ohio State, Stanford and UCLA. The Gators are the only program to win a title in each sport in the last 50 years.
SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Alan Zlotorzynzki speaks with Florida Gators head basketball coach Mike White.
The Gators men’s basketball team nearly pulled off the impossible. Head coach Mike White’s guys made an unexpected return to the “Elite Eight and came up just a bit short in making the Final Four.
The Miami Marlins are now run by former Yankee shortstop great Derek Jeter. One of the first orders of business conducted by Jeter and new owner Bruce Sherman, who insists the Marlins aren’t rebuilding was to trade reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton and his $265 million contract to —-you guessed it, the New York Yankees.
In return, the Marlins got second baseman Starlin Castro and prospects Jorge Guzman (P) and shortstop Jose Devers.
ABOVE VIDEO: Patriots miraculous comeback in Super Bowl LI (Fox Sports Video)
Nationally, the sports landscape was a mess. NFL player protests and President Donald Trumps war with the league was the top story. College basketball is in big trouble as the FBI announced arrests following a two-year investigation into paying players. Four assistant coaches from major schools, as well as reps from Adidas, were involved.
The top on-field games included the New England Patriots Super Bowl LI 25-point comeback win in the Super Bowl’s first-ever overtime, and Clemson beating Alabama in the final seconds to win their first college football title since 1981.
On the diamond, the Houston Astros won their first World Series title in franchise history in seven games over the LA Dodgers,. The two teams produced one of the best Fall Classic contests ever in Game 2. The Astros tied the game in the ninth at 3-3 but the long ball exploded as the Astros and Dodgers combined to hit five home runs beyond inning nine.
The Astros went on to win Game 2 7-6, tying the series and stealing the momentum that catapulted them to the seven-game series win for a city still battered and recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
And finally, boxing needed a crossover match to revive its sport. MMA star Conor McGregor was impressive both in promoting his boxing match with undefeated champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. and in the ring with him. However, Mayweather Jr was more impressive and earned a TKO in round 10 over McGregor to silence his critics once and for all.
You can’t make this stuff up. Happy New Year everyone.
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