BROOKSVILLE - John Wilkinson had plenty to smile about after a triumphant return to Hernando County Friday night.
He has had a lot more to keep him happy in the nine seasons since he resigned as head coach at Central and eventually moved on to the same position at Cocoa.
His Tigers, the third-ranked team in the Associated Press Class 4A state poll, rolled through an impromptu trip to Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium, soundly defeating host Hernando, 47-9.
Wilkinson coached the Bears for three years, from 2002-04, compiling a 15-15 mark.
At Cocoa, he guided the Tigers to three straight state titles from 2008-10, and has taken them to the state semifinals in each of the past six seasons.
Last year, he was inducted into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
"It was rewarding," Wilkinson said of coming back to Brooksville. "We've got a bunch of my old players here at the game tonight. It was good to see them before.
"It's always going to be part of my heart because this is where I started."
Wilkinson thanked the administration at Hernando for putting the game together. Both teams had suffered an early-season rainout and coincidentally had the same bye week.
That led to this contest being announced late last week as a means for each squad to restore its 10-game slate.
"It's very valuable to us to just play a game," Wilkinson said. "I didn't want to have two off weeks; I didn't want to play nine games. I know that they didn't want to, either.
"I just think it gives us more snaps. They're a good football team. They've got some athletic kids. I think it's going to help us because we start district play next week, which those are the money games."
Cocoa (3-1) looked the part of a state-title contender, piling up 372 yards of total offense while limiting Hernando (1-3) to just 129.
The Tigers also picked off three passes, returning one for a touchdown, and turned a blocked punt into a safety.
Even their kicking game looked solid, as Matt Adams converted all six point-after attempts plus a 35-yard field goal.
Senior Lorrenzo Pratt totaled 24 carries for 157 yards, and found the end zone three times in the first half.
He scored from a yard out at the 5:44 mark of the first quarter, then added touchdowns of 5 and 10 yards in the second.
"We've had two Division I running backs the last two years and he's kind of been the third guy," Wilkinson said. "Now he's the main guy and he's taking control, and he's doing a fantastic job for us being a leader and running."
The Leopards got on the scoreboard on the first play of the second quarter thanks to a 31-yard field goal by Habib Garcia. That made it 7-3, but Hernando could never pull closer.
Chauncey Gardner took a pick 79 yards to pay dirt in the third quarter. In the fourth, Jamel Dean ran 48 yards for a touchdown and Ashton Taylor tacked on a 1-yard scoring run.
It was also Gardner who batted down a punt late in the game that Hernando ended up recovering in the end zone to give the Tigers two more points.
All and all it was a rough night for the Leopards. They lost two players, Dallas Maclachan and K.D. Hagood, to ejections that will likely result in suspensions.
Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley also said after the game that running back Mondrell Brown injured his ankle.
"We didn't come to play," Mobley said. "We didn't come to play at all. Offensively we weren't blocking guys. Defensively we were missing tackles and not doing what we were supposed to do.
"We've got to come together as a team. Starting tonight we've got to come together as a team, because if we don't we've got a long trip ahead of us."
Cocoa 47, Hernando 9
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
COC 7 14 10 16 - 47
HER 0 3 0 6 - 9
COC - Pratt 1 run (Adams kick)
HER - Garcia 31 field goal
COC - Pratt 5 run (Adams kick)
COC - Pratt 10 run (Adams kick)
COC - Adams 35 field goal
COC - Gardner 79 interception return (Adams kick)
HER - Grant 27 pass from Kline (Garcia kick no good)
COC - Dean 48 run (Adams kick)
COC - Safety (Blocked punt recovered in end zone)
COC - Taylor 1 run (Adams kick)
First Downs 20 7
Atts./Rushing Yds. 48-302 33-89
Comps./Pass/Atts/Int. 6-13-0 3-12-3
Passing Yds. 70 40
Total Offense 61-372 45-129
Return Yds. 4-90 3-28
Punts/Avg. 3-31.0 3-36.0
Fumbles/Lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties 13-135 11-87