Booker T. Washington’s “drive for five” got a flat tire.
A combination of special teams miscues and not being able to come up with the clutch plays – on the either side of the ball – in the fourth quarter left the Tornadoes on the short end of things as they fell to host Cocoa 24-21 Friday night in the Class 4A state semifinals.
Booker T. Washington (9-4) was looking to advance to its sixth straight Class 4A state championship game to potentially play for its fifth consecutive state title, but Coca was able to go on a 78-yard scoring drive in the final four minutes – capped by a 14-yard touchdown run by Lasedrick King – to put the Tigers up 24-21 with a just over 90 seconds left to play.
Booker T.’s hopes of a miracle game-winning drive were quickly dashed as the Tornadoes’ final drive consisted of a 5-yard completion, a false start penalty, a sack, and an 11-yard completion on 4th and 17 to turn the ball over on downs and allow Cocoa to run out the final 44 seconds.
Cocoa (11-1) will face Jacksonville Bolles (12-0) on December 8th in the Class 4A state championship game in Orlando’s Camping World Stadium (formerly The Citrus Bowl).
The turning point of the game came early in the fourth quarter.
Leading 21-17 and set up with a short field after Deltron Holloway intercepted a Cocoa pass at the end of the third quarter, Booker T. appeared poised to grab all of the momentum and once again get on top of the team that it had knocked out of the playoffs every year for the past five seasons.
But the Tornadoes’ drive stalled in the red zone after a pair of incomplete passes and a sack; and instead of attempting a field goal, coach Tim “Ice” Harris elected leave his offense on the field.
Booker T. was unable to score and not attempting what would’ve been roughly a 32-yard field goal to potentially take a seven-point lead during the fourth quarter is something that will haunt Harris in hindsight.
After the game, Harris said that he takes full responsibility for the decision to try for a touchdown opposed to attempting a field goal.
“I made the call…some of the other coaches brought it to my attention to maybe try a field goal, but I made the decision to go for it,” Harris said. “I wanted to try to put the game away on that drive and make [Cocoa] chase us. But we weren’t able to score the touchdown and Cocoa and we weren’t able to finish tonight. Cocoa was able to finish…and hats off to them because coach [John] Wilkinson does a great job with his team.”
“I have to coach the team better so they’ll play better,” Harris said.
Booker T.’s special teams as a whole didn’t have a special night.
After playing through a scoreless first quarter, Cocoa got on the board early in the second when Booker T.’s Deandre Williams muffed a punt deep in Tornadoes territory and the ball rolled into the endzone as multiple Tigers jumped on the ball for a touchdown.
Booker T. also had a punt blocked late in the third quarter, which Cocoa converted into a 27-yard field goal and gave the Tigers a 17-14 lead with 3:45 left in the third.
Those 10 points proved to be vastly detrimental to Booker T., which had a 36-game win streak against Class 4A opponents snapped Friday, considering the Tornadoes outgained the Tigers 331 to 218 in total offense and racked up 18 first downs compared to Cocoa’s 10.
Sophomore quarterback Daniel Richardson put together a solid enough performance – completing 19 of 27 passes for 252 yards and a 55-yard touchdown pass to Sharod Johnson. Richardson also capped a third quarter scoring drive with a 1-yard plunge – giving the Tornadoes a 21-17 lead with 24 seconds left in the period. Richardson did, however, throw an interception near the goal line in the second quarter and succumbed to Cocoa’s pass rush in crucial moments, taking two fourth-quarter sacks.
Booker T. senior running back Craig Nelson ran for 81 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and Johnson finished with three catches for a game-high 128 yards.
Cocoa, which celebrated wildly as the final seconds ran off the clock, could barely find running room against Booker T.’s defense. The Tigers’ typically potent offense was held in check for much of the night until quarterback Bruce Judson connected on passes of 22 and 27 yards during the game-winning drive and King burst through for his 14-yard scoring run.
Booker T.’s players were emotional after game – many shedding tears of disappointment, as the team fell one game short of the state championship round.
Richardson fought back tears as he was already looking towards Booker T.’s future.
“This hurts and it’s disappointing,” said Richardson, who helped lead the team to a Class 4A title this past season and is on track to challenge for many Miami-Dade County passing records. “But we’ll be back here next year, I know we will.”