PREP FOOTBALL RECAP: Record-Setting Performances Highlight the 2018 Prep Football Season

School, County Records Fall like dominoes

ABOVE VIDEO: If you’re wondering what the game of the year was between two Brevard County teams this season, look no further than the Cocoa Tigers and Viera Hawks. The Hawks took down the Tigers for the first time in school history, 49-42 but it was simply a matter of which team had the ball last.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – There was a little something for every prep football fan this season on Brevard County football fields. Teams and players turned in performances that are usually reserved for the popular EA Sports video game, John Madden Football.

On offense, county and school records fell like dominoes, but scoring touchdowns wasn’t the only highlight of the season, stopping these high powered offenses turned out some amazing defensive performances as well.

The Astronaut War Eagles made watching defense fun again and several top-notch athletes not only scored offensive touchdowns but they tackled, picked off and caused havoc from the defensive side of the football.

The good news is that if you like what you saw this past season, many of these players will return to Brevard County football fields next year, and in some cases for the next two and three seasons.

The expression, “the more things change the more they stay the same,” turned out to be Brevard’s gridiron mantra this past season. Just as we did last year at this time, we start by congratulating the Cocoa Tigers on their third straight trip to Camping World Stadium and sixth overall appearance in the FHSAA state championship game.

Also, like last year, the Tigers were defeated by a very good Jacksonville Raines team, but don’t be surprised if Cocoa is right back in Orlando for a fourth straight season next December.

The Space Coast Daily–Friday Night Locker Room Players and Coaches of the Year will be released in the coming weeks but until then, here are some stats and moments from the 2018 season that leaves us clamoring for the 2019 Kickoff Classics.

WATCH REPLAY: Cocoa Tigers Advance To Class 4A State Championship After 32-31 Win Over UniversityRelated Story:
WATCH REPLAY: Cocoa Tigers Advance To Class 4A State Championship After 32-31 Win Over University

Team Performances By the Numbers: 

Brevard County had nine teams reach the playoffs this season. Astronaut, Eau Gallie, Merritt Island (10 straight appearances), Viera, Holy Trinity, Cocoa, Rockledge, Melbourne Central Catholic, and Heritage all made it to the second season.

Space Coast Teams on Cloud Nine:

Brevard County had nine teams reach the playoffs this season. Astronaut, Eau Gallie, Merritt Island (10 straight appearances), Viera, Holy Trinity, Cocoa, Rockledge, Melbourne Central Catholic, and Heritage all made it to the second season.

Aside from the Tigers reaching the FHSAA Class 4A title game, the highlight of the playoffs had to be Holy Trinity winning win their first-ever postseason game but much more on that in a bit.

In all, the county went 8-9 in the playoffs with six teams winning at least one game.

High ‘Five’ to the War Eagles:

No team produced a more impressive streak this season than did the Astronaut War War Eagles. Led by second-year head coach Justin Worden, Astronaut’s defense didn’t allow a point for five straight games.

The streak began with a 14-0 win over Everglades Prep Academy on Sept. 14 and didn’t end until the fourth quarter of their Oct. 18 matchup against Fort Pierce Westwood.

Looking inside the shutout streak a bit more tells us that Astronaut didn’t allow a point for 23 straight quarters and breaking it down even further, 284 minutes and 50 seconds of clock time.

The War Eagles allowed 132 points all year (11 per game) and 35 of them came in their playoff loss to Cocoa.

The First is Always the Sweetest: 

ABOVE VIDEONot only did coach Hooks get the most out of his team but the Tigers made the playoffs and faced Cardinal Newman as a big underdog on the road in the first round of the FHSAA playoffs.

Arguably, no coach in Brevard County did more with his team this season than Nate Hooks of the Holy Trinity Tigers.

The Tigers played with a roster of fewer than 30 players and had just seven seniors mesh with a roster filled with “veteran” sophomores and juniors.

Not only did coach Hooks get the most out of his team but the Tigers made the playoffs and Holy Trinity wins the award for playing in the best overall game of the year for a Brevard team.

In round one of the playoffs, as a significant underdog, Holy Trinity traveled to face Cardinal Newman in West Palm Beach.

After leading most of the contest, the Tigers were behind by two points with 30 seconds to play and they had the ball on their own 11-yard line with no timeouts.

What seemed to be an impossible task was made to look routine by Senior QB Dru Nickson, who didn’t panic. Nickson got his team down to the 30-yard line with time for one more play and he made the most of it.

Scrambling out of the pocket, Nickson found sophomore WR James BlackStrain for the touchdown as Holy Trinity defeated Cardinal Newman on the road 34-30 to win their first ever football postseason game in program history.

Offense Galore

ABOVE VIDEO: If you’re wondering what the game of the year was between two Brevard County teams this season, look no further than the Cocoa Tigers and Viera Hawks. The Hawks took down the Tigers for the first time in school history, 49-42 but it was simply a matter of which team had the ball last.

If you’re wondering what the game of the year was between two Brevard County teams this season, look no further than the Cocoa Tigers and Viera Hawks. The Hawks took down the Tigers for the first time in school history, 49-42 and to say two sophomore quarterbacks had breakout performances would be sadly understating what occurred on Sept. 21 at Hawks Stadium.

Viera and Cocoa combined for 1,171 total yards of offense with the Hawks posting 648 of them. Cocoa sophomore signal caller DJ Arroyo had 444 passing yards and four touchdowns in the contest but Viera’s sophomore was a few yards and touchdowns better on this night.

Bryce Norton accounted for 500 total yards and all seven Hawks touchdowns. He had four passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and caught the game-winner on a play similar to the one the Philadelphia Eagles used in the Super Bowl to beat the Patriots.

Norton’s 15-yard TD reception turned out to be the game-winner for Viera.

16 Straight: 

As impressive as 10 straight playoff appearances are by the Merritt Island Mustangs, the Cocoa Tigers reached the postseason for the 16th consecutive season and has now reached state semifinal or finals in 12 straight years.

When the Tigers began their streak, head coach Ryann Schneider was the starting QB for the UCF Knights and no player on the Cocoa Tigers team this past year had reached kindergarten, in fact, several of them weren’t even born.

Record-Breaking First Season:

Under first-year offensive coordinator and former Florida Gators great Mike Degory, the Viera Hawks offense flourished this past season. The Hawks broke school records for total yards in a season (6,328), average yards per game (527), and rushing yards in a single season (2,952).

The 2018 version of the Viera Hawks finished with 597 more yards than did the 2015 state runner-up offense led by current UCF players Tre Nixon and Hayden Kingston.

Wide receiver Shamar Mohr set the county record for receiving yards in a season with 1,489. He added 12 touchdowns. However, If you ask any Hawks player, they would give all those yards back for a shot to play at Camping World Stadium.

New Math, 8 =.500:

There were two big storylines heading into the 2018 season. One was how would area powerhouses fare with young quarterbacks. The other was how would eight new head coaches, including at perennial playoff schools like Cocoa, Merritt Island and Viera finish this season. The new guys combined for an overall mark of 44-44 (.500) and a 4-4 mark in the playoffs. 

There were two big storylines heading into the 2018 season. One was how would area powerhouses fare with young quarterbacks. The other was how would eight new head coaches, including at perennial playoff schools like Cocoa, Merritt Island, and Viera finish this season.

Well, the overall verdict is in and the grades, for the most part, are passing ones. The eight new head coaches combined for an overall mark of 44-44 (.500).

Cocoa’s Ryan Schneider won the most games as his Tigers went 10-4 while Titusville Terrier head coach Andrew Capuano’s team struggled this season finishing 1-10.

Half of the new head coachees made the playoffs. While Cocoa, Merritt Island, and Viera were all returning teams from last year, the Eau Gallie Commodores under new head coach Chris Sands reached the postseason for the first time since 2013, finishing with a 7-4 record.

Bears are Back 

Bayside Bears head coach Corey Broomfield deserves a shoutout, as his team won four games this season which was three more than the Bears won in each of the last three seasons combined. After posting a combined 15-8 mark in 2013 and 2014, the Bears went a combined 1-30 in 2015, 16 and 17.

Panther Pride:

Quietly located in the south end of the county, the Heritage Panthers have become one of Brevard’s winningest programs. Building a tradition of tough defense, fast offense, they are led by coach Mark Ainsley.

For the second straight season, the Panthers finished unbeaten in Class 6A District 14. In fact, the last time Heritage fell to a district foe was on Oct.14, 2016, when they lost to Sebastian River who went onto finish 11-2 that year.

Since the start of the 2013 season, the Panthers are 29-3 in district play. led by another standout sophomore in the area, Tay Farmer collected 1,017 rushing yards and finished 12th in all of 6A with 16 rushing scores. On defense, his brother, junior Rashard Farmer, led all of Class 6A with 10 interceptions to boost his career total to 21.

Both will be back next season for what should be another great year of football at Heritage.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Arguably, the two biggest coaching changes that shocked the Space Coast took place at Cocoa and Viera. The irony is that the Tigers and Hawks both finished in the same place they did last season under John Wilkinson and Kevin Mays respectively, against exactly the same teams.

The Tigers fell in the state championship game to Raines and Viera lost at home in the second round of the playoffs to the Plant Panthers. Cocoa won 11 games compared to 10 this year and the Hawks finished with an identical eight-win season.

Individual Performances: 

It’s impossible to point out all of the great individual performances from this season so what I’ll do is reserve most of these performances and accolades for the upcoming Space Coast Daily–Friday Night Locker Room All-Star selections.

Those teams will be released in the next issue of Space Coast Daily Magazine following the holidays. We will recognize first, second and third team All-Stars, as well as players of the year on offense and defense. We will also name an overall player and coach of the year.

However, with that said a few players deserve to be mentioned here and now.

Two-Way Players:

Just juniors, Astronaut’s Jaiden Dollard and Rockledge’s Ladarius Tennison were arguably the best two-way players in Brevard County this season.

Just juniors, Astronaut’s Jaiden Dollard and Rockledge’s Ladarius Tennison were arguably the best two-way players in Brevard County this season.

Both were phenomenal as running backs for their teams. Each of them averaged a first down nearly everytime they touched the football. Dollard finished as the areas leading rusher with 1,238 yards on just 138 carries (9.3 yards per carry) while Tennison reached 1,055 yards on 130 carries (9.1 YPC)

The two combined to score 33 offensive touchdowns for the War Eagles and Raiders. Dollard had 15 rushing scores and one receiving TD while Tennison found pay dirt 12 times on the ground and five more times on the receiving end of passes.

Tennison (1,708) finished with eight more total yards of offense this season than did Dollard (1,700).

On defense and special teams, both players were equally impressive.

From the War Eagles secondary, Dollard recorded 62 tackles and led Class 4A with seven interceptions. He scored on a fumble recovery, interception and a kickoff return for a TD. He was responsible for 10 points per game for his War Eagles who finished with a 10-2 mark on the season.

Not to be outdone on defense, Tennison recorded 124 total (93 solo), 10 sacks and he led all of Class 5A with 38 tackles for a loss. In fact, Tennison ranked at the top in Class 5A in every major defensive category involving a tackle.

He also caused four fumbles and had one interception, which he returned for a touchdown, and for good measure, Tennison also blocked four kicks this season.

Tennison, who has an offer from just about every Power 5 school ranked in the Top 20, also returned a punt for a touchdown.  The best part about Dollard and Tennison is we get to watch them again next season on Brevard County football fields.

GUNSLINGERS: 

ABOVE VIDEO: Viera’s Bryce Norton and Cocoa’s Diego Arroyo simply dominated secondaries all over the state.

Brevard County has seen its share of great quarterback play through the years but has the county ever seen a year like we just had from two sophomores at the position?

Viera’s Bryce Norton and Cocoa’s Diego Arroyo simply dominated secondaries all over the state.

Not since Tim Tebow was under center for Nease High School in 2005 has a quarterback passed for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 until Viera’s sophomore quarterback Bryce Norton did it this season.

Norton accounted for 74 percent of the Viera offense this season. He led the entire state with 4,706 of the Hawks 6,328 yards, which was 668 more yards than the player ranked second in total yards.

A product of the local Viera youth football program, Norton factored in 41 of the Hawks 58 touchdowns (32 passing, 8 rushing, 1 receiving) this season.

Cocoa’s sophomore QB, DJ Arroyo, had quite a season himself as he broke every major passing record at a school where records don’t fall easily.

The Cocoa gunslinger had 3,492 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, both Cocoa school records. He finished third in the state in passing yards and first overall in Class 4A.

DEFENSE-DEFENSE-DEFENSE: Here are a few other notable defensive performances from the 2018 season.

Sully Altman: The Holy Trinity senior racked up 159 total tackles, had four interceptions, three of them he returned for touchdowns and 17.5 tackles for a loss.

Javon Garvin: Finished second in Class 4A with 86 solo tackles and third with 138 total tackles, also had 13 tackles for a loss. Garvin was a huge part of the War Eagles defense that allowed just 11 points per game this season.

Brock Holland: It seemed as if all you heard over the loudspeaker vs. Raines in the Class 4A title game was, “Tackle made by No.5 Brock Holland.” The Cocoa  Tigers senior middle linebacker finished the year second in Class 4A with 144 total tackles. He caused two fumbles, recovered four and scored on two of them.

TWO TIGERS TO CLOSE: 

Willie Gaines is the first player on the Space Coast to rush for over 1,000 yards, have more than 1,000 yards receiving and pass for over 1,000 yards during their high school career.

When you think of the No. 4 at Cocoa High school some great players come to mind. Running back Chevelle Buie and Quarterback Bruce Judson to name two recent Tiger stars.

The next great Tiger to wear the number this year was Willie Gaines. This year’s No.4 for Cocoa was supposed to enter the season with a great shot to be one of the best running backs in the state.

However, the sudden exit of coach John Wilkinson, whose teams ran the football nearly 70 percent of the time and the addition of new head coach Ryan Schneider, who changed the game plan to throw the ball on six out of every 10 plays had people wondering what would happen with the offense and Gaines.

Sprinkle in four-star junior running back sensation Caziah Holmes, and Gaines best-laid plans to be the top rusher in the area went awry.

Gaines is a team player and he shrugged it off and moved to the slot wide receiver position where all he did was finish fourth in the state with 1,278 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.

The Toledo commit also rushed for 422 yards and six more touchdowns and he also tossed two touchdowns passes this season as well.

As a sophomore during the 2016 season, Gaines played quarterback at Heritage High School in Palm Bay where he passed for 1,337 yards and six touchdowns as the Panthers finished with a 6-4 record that season.

After transferring to Cocoa for his junior season Gaines was placed in the Tigers backfield, behind senior and current Louisville Cardinal Javian Hawkins. Following a late-season injury to Hawkins, Gaines took over.

Ten of his 15 touchdowns came after Oct.27, as did nearly 1,000 of his 1,349 rushing yards.

Cocoa’s Alex Petruzzello was a five-year letterman for the Tigers.  With 334 points Alexis the all-time leading scorer at Cocoa. He made 98 percent of his extra points hitting 241 out of 247.

Not all of the accolades belong to offensive and defensive players. With the Cocoa Tigers loss in the state title game, Brevard County said goodbye to one the best placekickers in the county.

Cocoa’s Alex Petruzzello was a five-year letterman for the Tigers. With 334 points, Petruzzello is the all-time leading scorer at Cocoa. He made 98 percent of his extra points, hitting 241 out of 247.

Petruzzello was 31 out of 39 during his career with his longest made field goal of 46-yards coming in a state championship game. Earlier this year, he set the all-time single-game mark for a kicker in Cocoa history as he kicked three field goals and nailed all five of his extra points in a big road win over Mainland.

In the Tigers 2016 Class 4A State championship win over Bolles, Petruzzello had seven points, nailing four extra points and converting a 30-yard field goal for the Tigers. He also handled punting duties where he averaged nearly 38 yards per punt, pinning opponents down inside the 20-yard line on 13 occasions during his career.

CLICK HERE FOR BREVARD COUNTY NEWS

Read at the spacecoastdaily.com