Vero Beach. Kissimmee Osceola. Treasure Coast. Rockledge.

Those teams read to high school football fans in Florida as schools that have great programs year-in and year-out that have name brand recognition. In 2021 in particular, none of those schools lost more than two games.

All of them lost to Cocoa High School this season.

Indeed, the Tigers’ 2021 regular season was a story of playing difficult opposition each week, and in all but one case winning, continuing to fight against what was one of the toughest schedules a high school football could team have en route to an 8-1 mark so far.

“It just kind of happened on its own,” said Cocoa High School head coach Ryan Schneider of the schedule. “The one thing we do at Cocoa is we take pride in playing the best that we play. We take pride in playing the who’s who of high school football. It just kind of worked out that with us not having a district that we had to find 10 regular season games that were able to make deals and get things done that we were able to play the Vero Beaches and the Kissimmee Osceolas and the Venices and some of the best teams in high school football just not in the state but in the country.”

After a preseason Kickoff Classic win on Aug. 20 over a Merritt Island team that went undefeated against teams from the state of Florida itself in 2021, the Tigers were able to follow that the following week with a pulsating 42-41 win at Vero Beach, which is a power in the state’s highest classification at Class 8A (whereas the Tigers play in Class 4A), according to maxpreps.com.

That would incredibly be the first of four consecutive one-point contests against state powers to open the regular season, with Cocoa next downing another Class 8A opponent in Kissimmee Osceola 21-20 on Sept. 3.

Heck, even the loss, a 21-20 defeat the following week to a Venice squad that is among the favorites to win the Florida High School Athletic Association’s highest classification in Class 8A, was impressive. Undaunted, the Tigers handed yet another Class 8A school in Treasure Coast their only defeat of the season as part of an incredible 56-55 triumph on Sept. 24.

“We’re lucky to be able to pull those games out, a couple of plays different here and there it’s a different outcome, but that’s something that’s prepared us, you know our kids we can lean back on and talk about, well we’ve been in this situation before, we’ve been down by 21 points, we can rally, stay together, stay as a team and the kids have done a great job doing that,” said Coach Schneider.

After a couple of more wins, including a 19-15 win over Dr. Phillips, a Class 8A school in Orlando on Oct. 7, and a 39-14 win over Viera on Oct. 15, the Tigers did what they do best, namely defeating ballyhooed opposition, downing previously unbeaten Spruce Creek 27-14 on Oct. 22 in what was their only loss of the season.

Following a 42-6 trouncing of a Lake Minneola on Oct. 29, the Tigers faced off with rival Rockledge, a Class 5A team that had only lost one game previously, in the annual “Bar-B-Q Bowl.” Cocoa was able to defeat the Raiders by a 20-14 score.

“It’s another one though where we talk about adversity,” said Mr. Schneider. They came out and got a turnover and got up on us 7-0 and no one panicked because of what we’ve been through.”

A big key to their success is the incredible balance the team presents offensively. Per MaxPreps, senior running back O.J. Ross has ran for 1,298 yards and a whopping 26 touchdowns on the ground, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. He’s also added 27 catches for 307 yards and a touchdown receiving.

But he’s far from the only big contributor in the pass game. The Tigers also have a pair of senior receivers in Jamaryae Robinson (49 catches for 830 yards and four touchdowns receiving) and Donte Cook (43 receptions for 695 yards and six touchdowns) who have been prolific.

It’s all led by quarterback David Wydner, who has completed 163 of his 231 passes for 2,545 yards on the season, average 282.8 yards per game. He also has thrown for 13 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

“The two big things is our offensive line’s been excellent the whole years,” said Mr. Schneider. “(Lanard Toney, Victor Battle (Jr.), Timothy Passmore, they’ve been dominant up front and that allows us to do a lot of things and then the other big thing which is a big separation in my opinion from this team and other teams is all our kids are friends. They’re all rooting for each other. No one’s pouting if they don’t get the ball. They’re all happier to see their friend make a great play than if they made a great play. They’ll do anything you ask them. They’re a smart group. They’re playing for each other. They’re playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back of the jersey and it’s a joy to be around them.”

Mr. Schneider also praised his defense, which also been stout against those tough opponents.

“We’re young defensively. There’s a lot of kids that are starting for us that were on JV last year so we knew going into the year we’d be a little bit young but they’ve gotten better every week,” added Mr. Schneider. “They compete their butts off. They fly around. They have fun. And the big thing is we‘ve just gotten better. We’re so much better defensively than they were in the beginning of the year. A lot of that credit goes to Coach Diesel and that coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball. They do a great job. We’ve just got to keep our momentum going throughout this playoff run.”

Ironically, Cocoa will face Class 4A competition for the first time all season as, following a first-round bye, they play their first postseason game on Friday night as they face South Sumter, who comes in with a 7-4 record.

Coach (Ty) Lawrence over at South Sumter does a great job,” said Mr. Schneider. “He’s been there for a long time. He runs an extremely good football program. He has a lot of my respect. He’s a good coach. They have really tough kids. They’re a little bit young but they’re tough, they play hard, they play for each other. They have our respect. This will not be a pushover. They’re a good football team with a really good coaching staff.”

Cocoa isn’t the only Brevard High School football team still alive in the playoffs.

Rockledge will travel to Merritt Island in Class 5A playoff action on Friday night while Satellite will host Orlando Bishop Moore. The winners of the two games will meet next week in a regional matchup. Elsewhere, Melbourne will travel to Martin County in Class 7A, and Holy Trinity will visit Orlando Christian Prep in Class 3A.

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