The Class 4A state championship is set. Bolles will clash with Cocoa on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET ) at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
Bolles enters the state title game a perfect 12-0 after beating East Gadsden, Raines and South Sumter. The Bulldogs are back in the championship for the first time since 2014.
As for Cocoa, it is 10-1. The Tigers beat Bishop Verot, Jones and Booker T. Washington to reach their first state in six years. Cocoa had lost to Booker T. Washington in the state semifinal in each of the last five state semifinals.
Bolles is averaging 50.2 points per game offensively while allowing only 13.9 points on defense this season. In three playoff games, the Bulldogs are posting averages of 45.3 points on offense and 15.3 points defensively.
Cocoa has rattled off nine straight wins after losing to national powerhouse Bishop Gorman in a trip to Las Vegas. On the season, the Tigers are averaging 38.4 points per game offensively while giving up 15.3 points per game defensively. In the playoffs, the offense is posting averages of 41.3 points and the defense is surrendering 17 points.
Note: Both teams won close games to advance. Bolles beat South Sumter 31-26 while Cocoa got by Booker T. Washington 24-21.
Breaking it down
Two highly skilled quarterbacks will square off in this game. Bolles’ Mac Jones, an Alabama commit will take on Bruce Judson, a USF commit.
Jones became the full-time starter last season but the Bulldogs lost in the region final to Raines. The two years prior, he sat and learned as he watched Bolles appear in two consecutive state title games.
“It was a good experience,” said Jones about all the time spent in the playoffs. “Especially when I was younger, I wasn’t really playing much. I played a little bit but I just got to observe, listen and learn and take it in as mental reps. That led me to see how intense playoffs are and how much fun it is to win those games.”
As for his competition, Judson has 25 total touchdowns (16 passing, 9 rushing) and 1,871 yards from scrimmage this season. The 5’10”, 205-pounder is ecstatic to finally get over the hump after losing to Booker T. Washington in the state semifinal in five straight years.
“It means a lot. We’ve been trying to get over this step and we finally did so it means a lot but we not satisfied we have to finish the mission,” Judson said. “We are battle tested we had to overcome adversity a lot this season. We are a disciplined and sound football teams thanks to our head coach and his staff and the players around us.”
Head coach John Wilkinson has made Cocoa a state contender every season since taking over the sidelines in 2005. He owns three state titles (2008, 2009, 2010).
On the Bolles’ sideline is a true legend in Corky Rodgers. The Bulldogs head coach has 10 state titles to his name.
For his team, the group is simply ready to help him earn No. 11 and the school’s state record No. 12.
“We’re successful because we’re well coached, efficient, hard working and a strong group of individuals,” junior linebacker Evan McGhee said
McGhee says this state title appearance is something he’s been waiting for.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “I haven’t been since my freshman year and to actually play in the game is a once and a lifetime opportunity.”
On offense, Jones is the senior leader but his weapons have shown up in a big way. Senior running backs Jaylen McCloud and Amari Terry keep this offense going.
Defensively, senior safety Ahman Ross and McGhee hold everything down.
For Cocoa, Judson is one of many offensive weapons. Alongside him is senior backs Lasedrick King and Timmy Pratt and junior Javian Hawkins. The three halfbacks have a combined 38 touchdowns.
Juniors Howard Stewart and Qunelius Phillips are guys monitor for the Cocoa defense. Stewart has a team-best nine sacks while Phillips has five interceptions.
Judson called Bolles a really good football team who is disciplined. He says he is looking forward to playing in front of a big crowd in Orlando.
“I like big crowds,” Judson said. “I play at my best when it’s a crowd. Our fans will be there, there’s going to be a lot of orange and black. I know Bolles is going to bring a lot but we have to stay focused the whole game.
“They going to come out ready and we are to but we have to not turn the football over and make the fewest to none mistakes to win this game and become state champions. I’m ready for this test.”
For Bolles, McGhee says he’s learned discipline and hard work from this season so far.
“When you mix both of those together, that’s tough to beat, “he said.
McGhee is looking forward to everything about this state championship experience.
“The hype leading up to the game is still there when you arrive,” he said. “My family is coming to see me play, being on TV, and the whole experience in general, is awesome.”
Bolles has been in the state title more recently, but Cocoa has worked so hard to get this point.
Both teams have been elite programs for a long time and with two strong and gifted quarterbacks in Jones and Judson facing off, it should be a fun battle.
The coaches and players know what is at stake. Playing sound football and not making bad mistakes will go a long way in a new environment in Orlando.
Expect a tight game until the end. It’s hard to pick a winner when both teams are so stacked on both sides of the ball. However, I have to give Bolles the slight edge in this solid matchup.
Photo credit: Marietta Daily Journal