When Gonzaga College High’s Ben Cima tried to kick a field goal 37 seconds before the end of the first quarter at the University of Maryland’s Byrd Field on Saturday, it barely reached the back of the end zone and sailed at least a yard under the crossbar.
On his second try, nothing about his kick looked the same, as his 35-yard attempt went halfway between the uprights and higher than either, clearly good. And then the final horn sounded, Cocoa High’s football team losing its season opener to the Eagles as time expired, 17-14.
“They got the ball last and kicked a field goal. What can you do?” Tigers coach John Wilkinson said. “We’ve got a lot of kinks to work out on offense. We played our hearts out on defense.”
Nobody more than Freddie Booth-Lloyd, a senior defensive tackle who also played offense and special teams. After a scoreless first half, Booth-Lloyd stepped in front of a Gonzaga outlet pass, grabbed it firmly with both hands and sprinted 82 yards to the end zone for Cocoa, outrunning every Gonzaga offensive player.
All 315 pounds of him.
“He’s an athlete,” Wilkinson said. “We’d seen the screen. That’ll mean a bunch of scholarship offers right there.”
Those have come out of these out-of-state games for many Cocoa players over the past three years, and Booth-Lloyd could be the latest since Tarean Folston showed his versatile skills in a Tigers win at Bergen Catholic (N.J.) last year and ended up at Notre Dame.
The difference is that Cocoa beat Bergen Catholic. This year, despite visible potential and athletes all across the field, the Tigers couldn’t get their offense going and let Gonzaga hang around long enough to win at the end.
After a 40-yard run by Lorrenzo Pratt on Cocoa’s first offensive play seemed to indicate a mismatch, the Eagles buckled down and played disciplined defense, preventing any more breakaways until Pratt went for 35 on a late second-half run.
By then, Gonzaga had turned to 147-pound ninth-grade running back Tyree Randolph to throw his own speed at Cocoa. He debuted after halftime and carried the Eagles to the red zone and a 7-7 tie with runs of 9, 7 6 and 19 yards. From there, Gonzaga went back to its upperclassmen, who bulled just enough for two touchdowns.
Pratt outgained all of Gonzaga’s runners on a 20-carry, 114-yard day, but the Tigers didn’t translate that into enough points.
“We have to learn from our mistakes and get better,” Pratt said, adding that not having a preseason game last week hindered their preparedness. “We’ve just to get our bumps and bruises out. We’ll get it done. I promise you that.”
Freshman quarterback Bruce Judson scored in the third quarter on a 10-yard run to give Cocoa a 14-7 lead that lasted almost 10 minutes on the clock. Judson showed his explosiveness on other plays, too, gaining 74 yards on 13 runs. He had four carries of 10 yards or more, but Cocoa’s more open offense — at times spreading three receivers across the width of the field — resulted in just five pass attempts and two completions. The first went for no gain, and Chauncey Gardner caught a pass for 10 yards late in the game.
Wilkinson agreed there is potential yet to be seen in his new starter.
“He’s a freshman. He’s our guy and we’re going to ride with him,” he said. “We wanted to ease him into the game. I was thinking about when I was a freshman. I wasn’t even in high school. I was in junior high.”
The Tigers will return to Florida to play again Friday, traveling to East Lake County.