COCOA Cocoa, which earlier in the week jumped to No. 1 in the Associated Press Class 4A poll, validated that position with a 49-24 defeat of Lake Highland Prep in the District 5-4A opener beneath a glowing Harvest Moon Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
It was the first step in a potential return to the postseason for Cocoa (2-1, 1-0 in District 5-4A), which has advanced to the playoffs 13 consecutive seasons, including three consecutive state titles from 2008-2010.
Trailing 10-7 early in the second quarter, the Tigers erupted for 28 unanswered points thanks in large part to senior quarterback Bruce Judson, who passed for 121 yards and ran for 103 yards in the contest.
The South Florida commit connected on an 80-yard scoring bomb to wide receiver Javon Spencer, who outwrestled the Highlanders defensive back for the ball, and later scored on a spinning 46-yard quarterback keeper.
Less than a minute later, defensive lineman Dada White scooped up a Lake Highland fumble and rumbled 18 yards for a TD and 35-10 halftime lead.
Tigers running back Lasedrick King scored on a pair of runs of 28 and 19 yards, the latter giving Cocoa a 42-10 late in the third quarter. But the Highlanders continued to fight until the final whistle, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make the final score appear closer than it was.
“They (Lake Highland) played a great game,” said Cocoa head coach John Wilkinson. “They are well-coached and have great and hard-working kids.”
After a pair of challenging season-opening contests in which they beat three-time Class 3A champion Trinity Christian Academy of Jacksonville, 26-23 in overtime, and lost, 46-10, to USA Today Super 25 No. 1 Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas the week after, the Tigers had a bye last week before district play began.
Cocoa has finished in the state semifinal round of the 4A playoffs the last five years, while the Highlanders (3-0) have not been playoff-bound since 2011. The Tigers have outscored Lake Highland 179-37 in the past four games of the series, including a 48-6 rout in 2015.
Lake Highland has a bye week while Cocoa visit 2015 Class 7A State Finalist Viera Friday at 7 p.m.
Cocoa 49, Lake Highland Prep 24
Lake Highland Prep 7 3 0 14 — 24
Cocoa 7 28 7 7 — 49
HOW THEY SCORED
C – Lasedrick King 28 run (Alex Petruzzello kick) 7:21.
LH – Elijah Lucas 67 run (Brandon Nguyen kick) 2:46.
LH – Nguyen 26 Field Goal 9:39.
C – Timmy Pratt 9 run (Petruzzello kick) 5:46.
C – Javon Spencer 80 pass from Bruce Judson (Petruzzello kick) 2:52.
C – Judson 46 run (Petruzzello kick) 1:32.
C – Dada White 18 fumble return (Petruzzello kick) :48.
C –King 19 run (Petruzzello kick) 4:06.
LH – Devyn Castor 19 run (Nguyen kick) 10:02.
C –King 9 run (Petruzzello kick) 3:43.
LH – E.J. Jimenez 9 pass from Lucas (Nguyen kick) 1:37.
Rushing: LH — Elijah Lucas 9-88, Devyn Castor 12-88. C — Timmy Pratt 10-63, Qunelius Phillips 3-14, Bruce Judson 11-103, Lasedrick King 8-80, Brad Canarie 2-10.
Passing: LH — Lucas 12-24-1, 180 yards. C — Judson 4-7-1, 121 yards, Canarie 0-2-0.
Receiving: LH — Jalen Townsend 1-13, E.J. Jimenez 4-44, Alex Medary 1-35. C — Juwan Armstrong 2-30, Javon Spencer 2-91.
At Cocoa High, Cocoa
Top performers: Lake Highland Prep: QB Elijah Lucas scored on a 67 yard run as the Highlanders led 10-7 early in the second quarter; Cocoa: South Florida commit, QB Bruce Judson, rallied the Tigers with a pair of TDs in a 28-point second quarter.
Key play: After a sluggish start, Cocoa, top-ranked in Class 4A, was led by Judson, who threw an 80 yard scoring bomb to Javon Spencer and spun his way for another TD run of 46 yards.
Record: Lake Highland (3-1, 0-1 in District 5-4A); Cocoa (2-1, 1-0 in District 5-4A)
Next week: Cocoa at Viera, 7 p.m.; Lake Highland bye week
Full game report: http://on.flatoday.com/2d74AeV
John Janokaitis, for FLORIDA TODAY