ORLANDO – Sophomore Cody Bell was suffering through perhaps the most difficult day of his young life.
The 5-7, 115-pound placekicker for Cocoa High School had missed each of his four field-goal attempts in the Class 3A state championship football game against Tallahassee Godby Friday afternoon at the Citrus Bowl that ended regulation at 0-0.
But Bell went from shouldering much of the blame to riding on his teammates’ shoulders after he kicked the game-winning PAT through the uprights in overtime to give Cocoa a 7-6 victory.
Bell missed field goal attempts from 34, 27, 31, and 42 yards but he never went into the tank. He turned a long day into a performance which coaches can use as a wonderful teaching tool for their kids.
It was a game filled with numerous offensive mistakes. Four times the Cougars drove into Cocoa territory in the first half with three of those drives ending as a result of turnovers. The fourth was the end of the first half.
On the other side of the field, Cocoa struggled to get much of anything going offensively. When it did get the ball into scoring position, the missed field goals plagued them. The Tigers had just 137 yards of total offense on 57 plays at the end of regulation.
Solid defensive play kept both teams in the game. Cocoa refused to allow the Cougars to balance their offense .Running back Lavorie Johnson averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. Cocoa defensive back E.J. Johnson will continue to haunt Godby quarterback A.J. Graham for years to come after intercepting three of his passes.
Cocoa won the coin toss in overtime and elected to play defense. With the football at the 10-yard line, Graham threw a fade into the left corner of the end zone incomplete to receiver Willie Downs. On second down, Godby again went to the left corner and this time Graham and Downs connected. Godby placekicker Billy Mueller hit the ball true on the PAT, but linebacker Anthony Session and defensive back Winfred Strickland blew through the left side of Cougars line and Session blocked the kick to keep the Godby lead at 6-0.
The Tigers took over for their turn and promptly picked up a five-yard penalty for delay of game. Running back Chevelle Buie ran for 10 tough yards on first down. Godby called a timeout but it wasn’t enough to settle the Cougars defense as Anthony Wilson pounded his way through the Godby defensive front for five yards and a touchdown to tie the game at 6-6. Then after a timeout called to calm their nerves, Bell and the Tigers kicked the winning PAT which gave Cocoa its first state championship.
The Cougars finished with just eight yards net rushing in the game. It was puzzling to see the Cougars miss additional opportunities to get the ball into the hands of receivers Kessy Graham and Willie Downs (a Florida State commitment). The pair combined for 12 receptions for 182 yards and a score. They accounted for 83 percent of the Cougars’ offensive yardage but only had 22 percent of the touches.
Graham completed 20 of 35 for 218 yards and a touchdown in overtime. However, Graham did throw four costly interceptions. Keep your eye on sophomore Chevelle Buie, who was the Tigers second leading rusher with 38 yards on 14 carries.
The Tigers did what they always do – play great defense, win the turnover battle and take care of the football. The story of this game was a resilient Cocoa Tigers team and an undersized kicker who demonstrated a lot of heart.
Cody Bell didn’t quit and neither did Cocoa.
FHSAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
The pairings for this weekend’s championship games at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl in the 2008 Florida High School Athletic Association state football playoffs:
Friday, Dec. 19
Class 3A championship
Cocoa 7, Godby (Tallahassee) 6, OT
Class 5A championship
St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) 56, Lakeland 7
Saturday, Dec. 20
Class 4A championship
Lincoln (Tallahassee) (11-3) vs. Plant (Tampa) (13-1), 1 p.m.
Class 6A championship
Seminole (Sanford) (12-2) vs. Northwestern (Miami) (12-1), 7 p.m.