Cocoa Tigers Fall Short To Raines Vikings 27-13 In Class 4A State Championship
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Senior Editor // December 6, 2018
Tigers seek program's fifth football title
CLASS 4A STATE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
(1) Raines (12-1) vs. (1) Cocoa (10-3)
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, 7 p.m. Thursday
Watch it: Game will be webcast through Spectrum Cable for $9.99 at Click Here
Follow it: Space Coast Daily TV Pregame Show at 5:00 p.m., Live In-Game updates. Live Post-Game Show From the Field.
Road to the Championship Game: Raines d. Marianna, 47-9; d. West Nassau, 42-0; d. Dunnellon, 48-0. Cocoa d. Titusville Astronaut 35-0; d. Fort Myers Bishop Verot 38-14; d. Fort Lauderdale University 32-31. Both teams had first-round byes.
Playoff History: Raines is 30-31 with two state championships (1997, 2017); Cocoa is 40-15 with four state championships (2008, 2009, 2010, 2016).
Head Coaches — Raines: Deran Wiley, ninth year (96-24). Cocoa: Ryan Schneider, first year(10-3).
BREVARD COUNTY • COCOA, FLORIDA– For 13 seasons under former head coach John Wilkinson no other team dominated the way the Tigers did as Cocoa won 144 games, and losing just 25.
The Tigers captured four state championships, three of them in successive years when Cocoa won 38 straight games from 2008 through 2010. In other words, Under Wilkinson, the Tigers were expected to compete for a championship every year.
However, Wilkinson departed Cocoa in March for the head coaching job at New Smyrna Beach where he would have an opportunity to coach his son.
Enter Ryan Schneider.
Without ever coaching one Cocoa Tigers football game, the first-year head coach would be the guy replacing a legend which meant he had his doubters and naysayers from the day he took the job.
Replacing a legend is not easy and history tells us that you either succeed or you don’t. The pressure is enormous and you can be Jimbo Fisher replacing Bobby Bowden or Lane Kiffin replacing Pete Carroll.
Although Schneider was a three-time state champ as an offensive coordinator, he was a first-time head coach and the former UCF Knights gunslinging quarterback was coming in and changing an offense that ran the ball 78 percent of the time to one that put it in the air six out of every 10 plays.
Cocoa Tigers football was known to be a great rushing attack and hard-nosed defense. Schneider wanted more finesse on offense and a defense that created more scoring opportunities for his offense.
Things started well with a lopsided win over Palm Bay but then the Tigers lost their second game of the year to Treasure Coast. A few weeks later the Tigers allowed 49 points in losing for the first time ever to the Viera Hawks.
Whispers about Schneider’s coaching abilities turned to roars of discontent after the Tigers lost to Rockledge for the second straight year, this time by 32 points in Brevard County’s most important rivalry game, the Barbecue Bowl.
No way this Tigers team could reach Orlando said the naysayers.
Schneider’s plan to use Cocoa athletes through the passing game was a failure, the defense leaked yards and points and wasn’t nearly as physical as what Cocoa fans were used to seeing, said the die-hards.
Lost in the shuffle was the fact the Tigers were playing arguably their hardest schedule in years, and Cocoa’s sophomore QB, who broke several of the schools passing records.
The Tigers were as Schneider likes to say #CocoaFast.
As the saying the goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Cocoa is right back in Orlando for a third straight year and on Wednesday evening will try to avenge last years title game loss in a rematch vs. the Raines Vikings (12-1) at Camping World Stadium.
HOW THE TIGERS ARRIVED:
As the Tigers are known to do, they played another tough regular season schedule facing seven teams that reached this year FHSAA postseason.
The combined record of Cocoa’s opponents during the regular season was 70-44 and after finishing 7-3 against that type of competition Cocoa finished with the second most power points in Class 4A and was awarded a first-round playoff bye.
The Tigers will face the team that finished with the most points in Class 4A for the championship.
Cocoa rolled past this year’s feel-good local football story in their opening round playoff game. The Tigers shut out the 10-1 Astronaut War Eagles 35-0 and despite a mistake-filled second half defeated Bishop Verot, 38-14 in the regional finals.
If you don’t have your tickets for the 2018 @FHSAA Football Finals, now is the time! Buy in advance and save $ vs. buying at the gate.
Thursday, December 6 match-ups:
1pm – Baker vs. Madison County (1A)
7pm – Cocoa vs. Raines (4A)
— Greater Orlando Sports Commission 2️⃣5️⃣-0️⃣ 🏈 (@GreaterORLSport) December 5, 2018
The University Sharks came to Dick Blake Stadium for the second year in a row in the state semifinals and this year were heavy favorites to beat Cocoa. University rolled over their first two playoff opponents by a combined score of 85-27.
Cocoa led 17-16 at the half but a disastrous start to the second half saw the Tigers down by 14 points and after the Tigers fumbled on their way into the end zone to cut the lead to seven points, it looked as if University was heading back to Fort Lauderdale with a win.
Looks can be deceiving and after Willie Gaines tackled Georgia running back commit Kenny Macintosh in the end zone for a safety to start the fourth quarter and cut the lead to 31-26, the tide changed, and the Sharks offense sputtered while Cocoa’s had one more big drive in them.
With 3:20 to play and facing third down and goal to go from nearly the 20-yard line, sophomore QB DJ Arroyo found WR Jamari Williams who outjumped defenders to haul in the game-winning pass.
Tigers linebacker Brock Holland forced a fumble that gave the ball to Cocoa but the Tigers were unable to pick up a first down to end the game. The Sharks would get one more desperate shot with no timeouts but the Tigers would not be denied a shot to avenge last years championship game loss to Raines.
There are so many storylines for the Tigers heading into tonight’s game.
Can Schneider beat a Raines team the way Wilkinson couldn’t or wouldn’t try to in last years game?
Raines held Cocoa to just 99 rushing yards during last years contest and many felt the Tigers failure to try to attack Raines through the air hurt Cocoa’s chances of winning a fifth title.
Can Willie Gaines finish off his Cocoa career on top?
Gaines may be the only player ever in Brevard County have 1,000 yards rushing, receiving and passing in his high school career. Gaines story is well documented and the fact that he’s overcome the tragic death of two close relatives and the near shooting death of his father and stayed focused is amazing.
Will Brock Holland’s trip back to Camping World Stadium be different now that Ryan Schneider is on his sideline?
Brock Holland received a lot of criticism when he transferred from Viera to Cocoa last summer. Holland felt Cocoa was a better fit for what he wanted to accomplish with his high school football career. And with no slight to Viera, one of those accomplishments was to win a state title.
As a freshman, Holland was with Viera in 2015 when the Hawks lost to St. Thomas Aquinas in the 7A title game. The offensive coordinator for the Raiders was no other than Cocoa head coach Ryan Schneider. Holland is happy to end his high school playing career where it all began but is very much focused on a different outcome this time.
While Cocoa played a tough schedule in 2018, no team played a tougher one than Raines in Class 4A, according to the power points.
The Vikings went 9-1 and recorded wins over Mandarin who will play for a Class 8A State Championship and Raines defeated Lincoln on the road and they advanced to the second round of the Class 7A State Playoffs.
The Vikings also defeated playoff teams Fletcher, Ribault, Oakleaf, and a 7-3 Sandalwood team that missed the playoffs. Although the games don’t count in the standings, Raines defeated the Rockledge Raiders, 34-28 in the kickoff classic this past August.
Already the only Duval County public school to ever win a state championship in football, Raines is looking to win their third overall title and the Vikings have rolled to this point, outscoring their opponents 137-9 in three playoff games.
The Vikings accumulated 5,397 total yards of offense so far this season. They are fairly balanced as they keep the ball on the ground 60-percent of the time. They are led on offense by senior running back Brandon Marshall who eclipsed 4,000 career rushing yards in the state semifinals win over Dunnellon.
In last years state championship game vs. Cocoa, Marshall gashed the Tigers for 149 rushing yards including a 72-yard rushing touchdown. Marshall can reach 2,000 rushing yards for the season tonight if he can gain 84-yards vs. the Cocoa defense.
Senior Barron Coates leads the Vikings offense under center with 1,842 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. He has thrown just four interceptions.
Led by senior middle linebacker Nigel Allen and Iowa State commit, outside linebacker Aric Horne, the Vikings possess superb speed in the middle of their defense.
Allen leads the Raines with 93 tackles this season. Janorris Robertson registered a team-high 12 sacks this season. And in the secondary James Tarver Jr. and Treyvon Hobbs combined for 10 interceptions.
Led by head coach Derean Wiley, the Vikings are also the first Duval County School since 1967 and 1968 to play for a state title in back to back seasons.
Wiley is a native of Jacksonville, Florida and a 1993 graduate of Raines. Wiley attended the University of Louisville where he was a defensive back for the Cardinals.
In 2009 Wiley was named Vikings head coach, and up until the start of the 2015 season, compiled a record of 49-16. Since 2015, the Vikings are 47-8 with two state championship appearances. Wiley’s overall mark is 96-24.
Raines is 25-2 over the past two seasons and has won 12 straight since losing its 2018 opener 16-15 to 7A Jacksonville Lee.
They have great playmakers at every level on defense and one of the toughest running backs in the state to tackle. With that said, I picked against Cocoa last week because I felt University had bigger, faster and better athletes.
What I didn’t factor into the equation was the heart of the Tigers and just how bad they want to win this title. I didn’t take into account Willie Gaines and his “I’ll put you on my back and carry you” mentality. I underestimated head coach Ryan Schneider’s connection with his team and how much the players have bought into his way of doing things.
Despite only putting up 153 total yards of offense last year vs. Raines, the Tigers should have won and had their chances to do so.
Cocoa fumbled the ball on the goal line on the way in for a touchdown and after taking the lead late in the game allowed Raines QB Ivory Durham to convert a third and 17 on the 10-yard line. Durham eluded defenders on a spectacular 39 yard run for a first down into Tiger territory.
Cocoa failed to capitalize on Raines mistakes. The Vikings had 19 penalties for 191-yards but Cocoa committed 11 penalties for 72 yards, including several delay of game calls that killed Cocoa drives.
The biggest mistake was Cocoa’s failure to open up the defense by being able to throw the ball. The Tiger passing attack was just 4-for-13 for 62 yards. You live by the sword, and on this night, the Tiger’s title hopes died by it.
There is something different about this Cocoa team. The Tigers can beat you every which way on offense, and the defense has been spectacular at times.
Cocoa won’t be intimidated by anything Raines can do, the Tigers have seen it all this season. From future Georgia Bullldog running back Kenny Macintosh last week, to a young and dynamic Viera QB Bryce Norton, Cocoa has faced it.
If the Tigers can play relatively mistake-free football, I like their chances to beat Raines. Ryan Schneider is 3-0 as an offensive coordinator in state title games, make it 1-0 as a head coach.
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