Kowboys in 7A-2 contest vs. Lakeland
By Rick Pedone
For the sixth time in seven seasons, Osceola and Lakeland will square off in the football 7A-2 regional playoffs Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Kowboys field.
Lakeland, under legendary Coach Bill Castle, holds a 4-2 playoff edge against Osceola. Lakeland won, 38-14, in 2002. After Osceola beat Lakeland, 22-7, in the 2007 regionals on its way to the state championship game, the Dreadnaughts won three in a row: 20-16 in 2008, 30-14 in 2009, and 20-7 in 2011.
The Kowboys defeated Lakeland last year, 16-2, in the regional quarterfinals.
Both teams were idle last week. Lakeland, 9-1, was unbeaten until it lost to Kathleen, 24-3, two weeks ago in the 7A-5 district championship game.
Last year’s playoff game was scoreless before the Kowboys, 8-2, scored 16 straight points in the fourth quarter, the big play coming on Shavai Gordon’s blocked punt and Dominic Lee’s recovery in the Dreadnaught end zone for the game’s first touchdown.
Osceola Coach Doug Nichols, who is 1-1 against Lakeland in the playoffs, expects another close, hard-fought game Friday.
“It’s the same old Lakeland. They only run about eight different plays, but they’ll keep on running them and running them until they find something that works,” Nichols said.
The Dreadnaughts had little success against the OHS defense last year, managing just 180 total yards.
Lakeland and Osceola have similar offenses in that neither team has a dominating running back, but they have several backs capable of making big plays.
Lakeland quarterback Aaron John, a junior, has rushed for 692 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s thrown for 831 yards and nine TDs.
Junior Ra’Don Dwight, a 5-6, 170-pound bowling ball, has rushed for 718 yards and 18 touchdowns. Freshman A.J. Davis, 6-0, 180, gained 826 yards and scored five touchdowns.
The Kowboys have five running backs with 300 rushing yards or more, led by 5-10, 210-pound sophomore Laderrien Wilson (657 yards, 9 TDs), who is Osceola’s hammer up the middle.
Senior Scooter Fagan (520 yards, 4 TDs), senior Akiel Hamilton (340 yards, 3 TDs) and sophomore Nazayah Brown (324 yards, 10 TDs) all have game-breaking ability. So does quarterback Daequan Harrison (386 yards, 4 TDs), a senior who keeps defenses off-balance with his breakaway speed and his ability to throw downfield (24-64-522, 4 TDs).
Many of the same cast of defenders returned from last season’s Kowboys’ playoff team, when OHS reached the state semifinal round.
Gordon and Lee are back, along with linemen Dalton Banton, Derek Rivers, Juquan Dockery and linebackers Mikeice Adams and Riley Nicholson.
Juaquan Jenkins anchors a secondary that has given up few big plays this season.
The Kowboys defense has surrendered just 9.6 points and 129 yards on average this season. Only undefeated Lake Mary rushed for more than 100 yards against the Kowboys (167), and only Fort Pierce Central (203) threw for more than 200 yards against the Kowboys secondary.
Lakeland’s 4-3 defense is keyed by senior linemen Dereck Boles (6-4, 240) and Sherby Saimplice (5-10, 190).
Nichols said his team’s success Friday will depend largely on how well sophomores like Wilson, Brown and defensive lineman T.J. Kelly play.
“For some of them it will be a new situation where there’s a little more interest and there’s more people in the stands. If they play the way they have all year, we’ll be fine. If they get the big eyes, then watch out,” Nichols said.
One issue that won’t be a factor, Nichols said, is intimidation. The Kowboys have played Lakeland so many times (12, counting regular season games) over the past 11 seasons that OHS players take the matchups in stride.
“Ten years ago when you said Lakeland, some of the players might not have had a lot of confidence about beating them. But these guys are excited about it, they want to play them,” Nichols said. “It’s like I told them last year – you probably are going to have to play them some time, so it might as well be the first game, at home, instead of later on down there.”
The winner of Friday’s game meets the Kathleen-Lake Nona winner Nov. 23 in the regional semifinals. Osceola would travel to Kathleen or host Lake Nona. The Kowboys beat Lake Nona, 35-21, in October.