University School’s season came to an end one step short of their desired destination as the Sharks were ousted by Cocoa 32-31 in the teams’ Class 4A state semifinal contest.
It’s the second consecutive year that the Sharks’ season has ended in the state semifinals at Cocoa, though this year’s margin was much closer than last year’s contest, which saw the Tigers prevail 49-14.
“For them to make this climb within the last 2 or 3 or 4 years to be here, literally one point away from playing in the state championship game says a lot about our kids and I’m extremely proud,” said University School head coach Daniel Luque.
The Sharks led by two touchdowns in the second half after they trailed 17-16 at halftime. The Sharks took the lead courtesy of a 28-yard touchdown pass from Nick Vattiato to Kenny McIntosh that helped put University School up 24-17 after a successful 2-point pass from Vattiato to Jordan Irizarry.
University wasn’t done there, though, as it recovered a fumble on the subsequent Cocoa kickoff return which led to a 31-yard touchdown pass from Vattiato to Christian Wells on their first play from scrimmage to put the Sharks up 31-17.
But just when it appeared the Tigers might be running out of gas, they stormed back, cutting the lead in half on a 29-yard run by quarterback DJ Arroyo. They narrowed the gap even further early in the 4th quarter when Vattiato was tackled in the end zone, which cut the Sharks lead to five at 31-26.
“The safety, it ended up coming back to bite us in the butt by one point,” Luque said.
Cocoa scored what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown with 3:17 left in the contest as Arroyo found Jamari Williams on an 18-yard pitch-and-catch on 3rd and 18 to put the Tigers up 32-31.
McIntosh fumbled on the first play of University’s ensuing drive. The Sharks had one last chance after getting the ball back with a little more than a half a minute and entered Cocoa territory but they were unable to get into field goal range.
The lead changed hands four times in an entertaining first half of play. McIntosh opened the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Cocoa retook the lead after Arroyo found Caziah Holmes for a 16-yard touchdown reception and added to their lead via a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter to go up 10-6.
University School then struck back when Wells made an amazing one-handed catch on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Vattiato that put his team back up 13-10. A 28-yard touchdown reception by Willie Gaines from Arroyo put the Tigers back ahead 17-13 and a 27-yard field goal by the Sharks’ John Cannon cut the Tiger advantage to just one point at halftime.
McIntosh finished with 155 total yards and two touchdowns in his final game as a Shark.
Cocoa will face off with Jacksonville Raines in Thursday’s Class 4A State Championship game in Orlando.