High School Sports

University School can’t rally past Cocoa High in state playoffs

University School coach Daniel Luque shares an emotional moment with two of his seniors, Jeremy Czetenda (left) and Bradley Lanitchford after the Friday loss.
University School coach Daniel Luque shares an emotional moment with two of his seniors, Jeremy Czetenda (left) and Bradley Lanitchford after the Friday loss. Bill Daley

It wasn’t the emotional speech Daniel Luque wanted to give Friday night.

The coach who brought the magic back this season to a University School program that had fallen on hard times was hoping his Sharks had one more big effort left in them.

But traveling three hours north to take on a defending state champion that had outscored its first two opponents in the postseason by a combined 126-15 proved too difficult.

And so a choked up Luque thanked his players and said goodbye to his seniors after a 49-14 loss to Cocoa in a Class 4A state semifinal at Cocoa High School.

The Tigers (11-1), who defeated Jacksonville Bolles to win their fourth state title a year ago, are headed to Orlando where they will take on Jacksonville Raines in the 4A state title game at Camping World Stadium on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.

For the Sharks (10-2), it was a tough end to an otherwise breakthrough year that saw them return to prominence after the program went through a major transition following a state title in 2012.

“Give credit to Cocoa man, those guys came right out and took it to us tonight and showed why they’re defending state champions,” said Luque who took over a program in 2015 that was coming off a 2-8 season. “They came off the ball right away and in games like this you need to try and come out and jump on top early and make a quick statement and it was just the opposite as we fell behind early instead.”

Luque watched as Cocoa started its first drive from its own 20 and proceeded to go 80 yards in 15 plays, eating up the first eight minutes while converting three third-down plays and a fourth down to go up 7-0.

University, so explosive last week in a wild regional final shootout win against Monsignor Pace, struggled from the outset as junior running back Kenny McIntosh, unstoppable against Pace (245 yards and five touchdowns), was held to 39 on seven carries.

By the time quarterback George Bubrick found Jordan Irizarry for a 62-yard touchdown pass late in the first half, the Sharks were trailing by 24.

Cocoa added a field goal three seconds before halftime and then took its opening second-half possession and grounded out another long drive to go up 34-7 snuffing out any U. School comeback dreams.

“Give them credit, they came to play hard tonight and we just had no answer for anything,” said McIntosh, who has interest from virtually every major program in the country and who confirmed last week that the University of Miami has been his hottest pursuer. “They’ve got a ton of speed and proved that they are state champions for a reason.”

The Sharks defense had no answers for a Cocoa offense that racked up 487 yards of offense (405 on the ground) and scored on all eight of its possessions.

The biggest thorn in their side was Cocoa running back Willie Gaines who had 257 of those rushing yards on 31 carries.

“Cocoa is clearly a very well-coach bunch who we had a lot of respect for coming in tonight and they were just a little too much for us,” said Bubrick who has offers from Johns Hopkins and Penn but might attend Stanford as a preferred walk-on.