Osceola sends Naughts home, 33-21
By Rick Pedone
No question about it, there’s a new sheriff in town.
For the second straight season, Osceola dispatched Class 7A heavyweight Lakeland from the 7A-2 regional quarterfinals, 33-21, on a drizzly Friday night at Kowboys field.
Kowboys quarterback Daequan Harrison ran, threw, received and returned the ball for big plays, and running back Laderrien Wilson (20-122, 3 TDs) pounded into the end zone three times to push the Kowboys’ record to 9-2. Lakeland, coached by Bill Castle, finished the season with the same record.
The Kowboys, No. 6 in Class 7A, travel to Lakeland Kathleen next week for the regional semifinal round. The Red Devils outscored Lake Nona, 55-42, in the quarterfinals.
“I’m proud of our guys. They played hard. Anytime you can send those cats home two years in a row, that’s big for our program,” Osceola Coach Doug Nichols said.
Osceola beat Lakeland, 16-2, last season in the quarterfinals.
Harrison, a senior, did it all Friday. After Lakeland’s James Robinson returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown to put Lakeland ahead, Harrison scored the Kowboys’ first touchdown when he caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from holder Dominic Lee on a fake field goal late in the first quarter. Harrison slipped outside unnoticed by the Dreadnaughts defense and tightroped into the end zone to pull the Kowboys within one point, 7-6. Harrison (18-121) carried four times for 44 yards on the 53-yard drive.
“That just came up out of nowhere,” Lee, a junior, said about the fake field goal. “It’s a play we work on in practice. It was there, so coach said go for it. Why not?”
Lakeland responded with its only sustained drive of the night, moving 78 yards on a drive capped by Xavier Spann’s 24-yard run to put the Naughts ahead, 14-6.
OHS came right back. Harrison ran 49 yards for an apparent touchdown, but a penalty moved the ball back to the Dreadnaught 16. After Harrison (1-6-13) kept the drive alive with a 13-yard completion to Santiago Hoffman, Wilson ran in from the 4 for his first TD and Nazayah Brown ran for two points to tie the score at 14 with 3:58 left in the half.
A big special teams play gave OHS a 20-14 halftime lead when Scooter Fagan returned a punt 75 yards to the Lakeland 5, setting up Wilson’s second TD run, from the 3, with 28 seconds left.
Harrison struck again with an 80-yard kickoff return to start the second half.
“In the playoff games, coach puts me out there for the returns. It’s all or nothing, and he wants the best athletes on the field,” Harrison said. “Whatever it takes to help our team win.”
The try for two failed, leaving it 26-14, but the Kowboys scored on their next possession when Wilson popped free up the middle for a 45-yard TD run that built the Kowboys lead to 33-14 with 7:22 left in the third quarter.
With Osceola’s defense turning dominant, it looked as though the lead was secure even after an OHS turnover late in the third quarter.
“I thought we took it to them. I thought we out-physicaled them there in the third quarter, and that’s saying something when you are playing a program like that. There was a time when you said Lakeland and our kids kind of went, ‘Uh oh,’ but these guys get excited about playing them,” Nichols said.
Lakeland, ranked No. 8, made it interesting when quarterback Aaron Johnson (14-27-218, 1 TD) hit Spann on a 53-yard scoring play early in the fourth quarter, but Lee’s interception with 3:44 left took away Lakeland’s momentum.
“I was just playing my position,” the Kowboys safety said.
Osceola played the last quarter without Juaquan Jenkins, one of its best cornerbacks, who was hurt on his way to school Friday morning in freak accident.
“I walk in this morning and he’s laying there with a big cut on his hip. That’s how we started the day,” Nichols said. “There’s one of our best defensive backs, return men and special teams players.”
Harrison hobbled off the field late in the game with a cramp.
“It was nothing,” he said.
Lakeland outgained the Kowboys by a few yards, 283-266, but it gained much of that yardage after the Kowboys had the game in hand.
Osceola will travel in the playoffs for the first time in two years when it visits Kathleen next week. OHS had four home playoff games last year when it reached the state semifinals.
Ironically, Kathleen’s stadium is just a few miles from where OHS spent so many frustrating playoff evenings, being eliminated at Lakeland’s Bryant Stadium in 2002, 2008, 2009 and 2011.
“That’s still a great program there with a lot of tradition, but maybe things have turned a little,” Nichols, 2-1 in the playoffs against Lakeland, said.