The significance of Cocoa High’s 24-21 state semifinal win over Miami Booker T. Washington isn’t lost in the celebration over the Tigers’ earned trip back to Orlando for the Dec. 8 Class 4A state championship.
That appearance, in itself, will be another highlight for a program that has won three state titles already. Yet, beating the Tornadoes ends a five-year streak of one team dominating the south half of the 4A bracket and guarantees the team that won the last four trophies will not repeat.
Friday’s Cocoa celebration had a similar feel to that of the very same Miami Washington program in 2011 when it got past a Tigers team that had played in three consecutive state championship games and won 15 playoff games in a row.
The Tornadoes had survived overtime against Cocoa, winning 20-14 and keeping the Tigers off the scoreboard in the extra period.
“Tonight was the first chance to experience a championship atmosphere, to beat a team that’s won it three times in a row,” Washington coach Tim Harris said afterward. “Tonight isn’t the championship game, but we’re going to celebrate it tonight like it’s a state championship.”
BTW won the next four rematches, including two games at Cocoa Stadium, so Friday’s win reversed the trend. It could be argued that it also reversed another one.
In this 2016 win over the Tornadoes, it was again the Tigers defense that led the way, along with a heavy dash of special teams.
John Smith, who blocked a punt that led to a field goal, also made 11 tackles and broke up a pass. Howard Stewart and C.J. Bartley were leaders in a Cocoa pass rush that kept the BTW offense unsettled and forced an interception made by Qunelius Phillips.
“We knew they were going to come out throwing the ball, so we had to put pressure on the quarterback,” Bartley said. “You put pressure on the quarterback, (and they) can’t do much.”
That interception, at the Tigers 4-yard line, ended what looked like a sure touchdown drive for the Tornadoes and may have turned the momentum of the entire game. Cocoa had stopped BTW deep in its own territory, and Javian Hawkins returned the ensuing punt 52 yards for a touchdown to get the crowd and the home team hyped.
But a roughing the punter penalty gave the visitors new life, and they drove the length of the field ready to take the lead before Phillips’ interception.
Bartley summed up the defensive game plan simply.
“The spotlight was on, and when you’re in the spotlight, all you’ve got to do is dominate, and you’ll come out on top.”
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