On a night when the Cox football team was playing its most important game of the season, the Falcons’ best player put up arguably his most impressive performance.
Cox quarterback Cole Johnson guided the Falcons with his legs and arm to a 42-35 victory against Bayside in Friday’s first-round playoff matchup at Cox High School.
The senior captain worked his versatile skillset to perfection, keeping a solid Marlins defense on its heels all night as he threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-15 passing, while rushing 11 times for 96 yards and three touchdowns.
Johnson’s clutch effect was most evident in the second half.
Cox needed a spark in the third quarter after Bayside cut the Falcons’ lead to 28-20 and forced a 3rd and 10 on Cox’s next possession. Johnson’s legs kept the drive alive with a 12 yard run. On the next play, he aired a 45-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson, giving the Falcons a 35-20 lead.
On the Falcons’ next drive, Cole Johnson converted a pass on 4th and three and ran in a 27-yard touchdown on the next play. That put Cox up 42-20 with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
“Cole has been great for putting us on his back when he needs to,” Cox coach Brad Nelson said. “We count on Cole to make smart decisions and do what he needs to do to keep the offense on the field. Tonight he made the right checks and the right calls.”
Johnson started Cox’s offense with three consecutive touchdowns on the Falcons’ first three possessions of the game. He ran in a 23-yard touchdown for the game’s first score, then followed with a 46-yard touchdown pass to Da’Jon Askew and a 4-yard touchdown run. The Falcons held a 21-0 lead after the first quarter.
“Cole has deceptive speed,” Nelson added. “He has that next-level knack.”
Falcons senior running back Matt DeMasi made his presence felt, rushing for 120 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries. Marcus Johnson led all receivers with three catches for 67 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, the Falcons dominated the first three quarters. Led by Joe Fuller, Jordan Williams and Mikkel Franklyn, Cox finished with five sacks and forced two lost fumbles and four turnover on downs. Falcons’ junior linebacker Matthew Broccoletti picked off Marlins quarterback Donte Lampley midway through the third quarter.
Bayside nearly put together a fourth-quarter comeback. The Marlins trailed 42-20 with under six minutes remaining when Lampley threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Patterson. On the Marlins’ next possession, sophomore running back Caleb Brodie ran in a 20-yard touchdown. Bayside sliced their deficit to 42-35 with 2:14 remaining.
The Marlins’ onside kick following Brodie’s score was unsuccessful and after forcing a Cox punt, they couldn’t capitalize on a final offensive drive that started at their own 5-yard-line with \1:14 left in the game. Lampley threw four consecutive incomplete passes.
“I never thought we were out of the woods,” Nelson said of Bayside’s comeback in the fourth quarter. “I know there’s ebbs and flows in everything. They’re too good of a team, too well coached of a team, to not make adjustments.”
Lampley completed 14-of-27 passes for 187 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Patterson led all Marlins receivers with eight catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Eric Melton had two catches for 42 yards and one touchdown, while Armani Chatman threw a 45-yard touchdown pass.
On the ground, Brodie rushed for 59 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries. Michael Martinez rushed six times for 21 yards and one touchdown.
Next up for Cox is a date with Ocean Lakes in the second round next Friday.
The Falcons lost to the Dolphins 49-7 in their regular season matchup on Oct. 30. It was the first game Cox played without former head coach Bill Stachelski, who was suspended the day before that game.
Nelson said his Falcons will relish the opportunity to avenge a loss against one of the nation’s top teams.
“It’s not every day that your team gets to take a crack at a nationally ranked team,” Nelson said. “We’ll throw everything at them that we got. It’s the playoffs. Anything can happen.”