COCOA — Friday night marked the 11th time since 2010 that the Cocoa Tigers have played an out-of-state opponent.
But this time was different.
For the first time, the Tigers played that game in their own stadium. And man, did they put on a show, defeating Western Branch of Chesapeake, Virginia, 35-0.
Running back Timmy Pratt ran for 120 yards and scored two touchdowns and quarterback Bruce Judson ran for a TD and connected with tight end Zach Armour on a pair of scoring passes as Cocoa improved to 5-6 in games against out-of-state opponents.
“It was huge,” Cocoa coach John Wilkinson said of being able to play at home. “Our fans are the best around, and for them to have to travel all the time, it’s expensive. I’m just happy we were able to get in touch with Western Branch … and it worked out. It’s huge for our kids to be able to play in front of their home crowd.”
Western Branch’s double wing offense has given plenty of opponents trouble, but the Tigers — who had face a similar offense several years ago — were able to stuff the Bruins much of the night thanks to the play of Cocoa defenders like Henry Johnson, Zach Beagle, John Smith, Deundrell Turpin, Joaquin Lennear and Jekevius Henry.
“We just had to come off the edge strong and set the edge, so if they do a toss we could keep them inside and bring them to the linebackers,” Smith said.
Offensively, the Tigers were able to find the right gear late in the first quarter behind the running of Pratt and Howard Stewart. Judson then found Armour in the end zone from 12 yards out to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 22 seconds left in the first quarter.
A big sack by Stewart backed Western Branch up to its 1-yard line, forcing a short punt that was returned by Chauncey Gardner to the Bruins’ 10-yard line, eventually setting up Pratt’s 8-yard TD run and a 14-0 lead at the half.
The Tigers came out strong in the second half, scoring on three consecutive possessions. Judson scored on a 1-yard run, hit Armour with a 25-yard TD pass in which the tight end absorbed a big hit in the end zone for a highlight play.
Pratt, who had a pair of 34-yard runs in the game, capped the scoring with a 4-yard run. He finished with 120 yards on 17 carries against the Bruin defense.
“I knew they would get on the ball fast, so we had to be a step ahead of them to do what we needed to do,” Pratt said.
Despite the loss, Western Branch coach Greg Gibson said he was happy with his team, adding the Bruins got more out of playing a team ranked No. 13 in the nation by USA Today than they would have playing a lower-echelon team in Virginia and getting an inflated sense of how good they were.
“They showed us exactly what we need to work on,” Gibson said. “That was what I wanted them to get out of it. I wanted them to be challenged, which they were. They learned exactly what they need to do to improve. We couldn’t be happier coming down here and being able to play. Coach Wilkinson was a gracious host.”
Bolles 28, Heritage 21
Pine Ridge, Cocoa Beach
Rockledge 41, Duval Charter 0
Eau Gallie 24, Astronaut 21
Holy Trinity 36, Harvest Community 7
Space Coast 10, Lake Howell 7
Merritt Island 37, Lake Wales 12
Merritt Island Christian 54, Master’s Academy 21
MCC 13, Satellite 7
Spruce Creek 31, Melbourne 0
Lake Brantley 40, Titusville 14
Cocoa 35, Western Branch (Va.) 0