LAKEWOOD, Ohio – The Cocoa Tigers traveled to Lakewood, Ohio, to face Lakewood St. Edward (Ohio), the No. 24 team in the USA Today Super 25, on a rainy and cold Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers battled to the end, but it wasn’t enough in a 24-14 loss.
The game started well for Cocoa (4-2), as the defense held St. Edward (5-1) to three-and-out and then the offense went on a drive and cracked St. Edward territory, but a holding penalty on the Tigers stalled the drive.
The Eagles then started to take control when running back Cole Gest took the ball 63 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive to set the Eagles up at the Cocoa 12-yard-line. The defense held enough to force a 27-yard field goal.
The Eagles found the end zone on their next possession when a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Keefe to Matthew Gonzalez capped off a five-play, 31-yard drive.
St. Edward took a 10-0 lead into the half, but the final drive of the first half for the Tigers gave them momentum heading into the locker room. After being pinned at the 1-yard-line on a punt with 2:51 to play, Cocoa gained 38 yards before time expired.
Story continues below:
“We started to get some positive things happening,” Cocoa coach John Wilkinson said. “That’s a good football team. For us to come up here with 27 guys dressed, we will play anybody any place, anywhere.”
After a Cocoa fumble on the first possession of the second half, Gest scored again for St. Edward when he took a screen pass from Jimmy Keefe and went 27 yards for the score to make it 17-0 Eagles.
MORE: Brevard County high school football
But then Cocoa started to click on offense.
Chauncey Gardner got the Tigers on the board with a highlight run in the third quarter where it looked as if he was going to lose 15 yards. After circling back around the defense, he was off to the races and found himself in the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown.
That play sparked the defense once again and after a three-and-out for the Eagles’ offense, Cocoa had the ball in the hands of quarterback Bruce Judson. The Ohio State commit didn’t disappoint in his first game in Ohio, taking it 61 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the drive to cut the St. Edward lead to 17-14.
Judson ran for 203 yards on 31 carries and Gardner had four rushes for 49 yards along with several big plays on defense.
“Those are the guys we count on,” Wilkinson said. “They made plays when we needed them to make plays. I just wish they could have made a few more.”
Cocoa could have used a few more big plays, as the St. Edward defense came up with stops on the final two possessions for the Tigers before Gest broke a 54-yard touchdown run with 1:18 left in the game to seal it. Gest ran for 204 yards on 14 carries to lead the Eagles offense.
The Tigers will head south to Canton, Ohio, Sunday to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame before returning home.
Ryan Isley is a freelancer from Akron, Ohio.