Kathleen is quick, skilled
By Rick Pedone
It’s the football playoffs, so it’s not unusual for the Osceola Kowboys to head for Lakeland.
They’ve done that four times since 2002, except, this time Osceola’s caravan will bypass Lakeland High’s Bryant Stadium and instead continue on to Kathleen’s Johnny Johnson field, where the teams square off Friday at 7:30 p.m. for a 7A-2 regional semifinal.
Osceola, 9-2, eliminated Lakeland High from the regionals last week, 33-21, at Kowboys field and Kathleen, 9-2, scored three touchdowns on returns to overcome Lake Nona’s early 14-0 lead in a 55-42 victory.
This will be the first time the teams have met since they shared a district 23 years ago. The Kowboys beat Kathleen and Bartow in a three-way district tiebreaker to win the championship in 1990, and they eventually advanced three rounds into the playoffs before being eliminated by Fort Lauderdale Dillard. Nichols then was an assistant under Coach Greg Johnson.
“They’re a good team. They’ve got a real good receiver (Ja’Von Harrison) who is committed to Virginia Tech, and their quarterback (Kevin Wilson) is pretty good,” Nichols said.
Harrison returned punts 75 and 65 yards for scores against Lake Nona, and Demircale Flournoy brought an interception back 35 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Red Devils their first lead, 28-21.
Harrison (33-548, 8 TDs) also caught a 48-yard TD pass from Wilson and scored on a 16-yard run.
Wilson (97-142-1,210, 15 TDs) also passed 27 yards to Marques Young and 26 yards to Quade Richards for touchdowns, and Anthony Ware (145-632, 11 TDs) scored on a 2-yard run.
The Red Devils, coached by Irving Strickland, snapped a 22-year drought against Lakeland, 24-3, to clinch the 7A-5 district championship three weeks ago.
Kathleen was moved up to Class 7A during the redistricting cycle for the 2013-14 football seasons. The Red Devils were in Class 6A last year and advanced to the playoffs.
“Their quarterback made a couple of big plays against Lakeland that really turned that game around. It was 3-0 Lakeland just before the half,” Nichols said. “He throws pretty well, but what he usually does is move around until someone gets open.”
The Kowboys emerged from their win against Lakeland in good shape, except for a hamstring injury to defensive back Juaquan Jenkins that may shelve the senior DB.
“That hurts, because he is the physical type of back who we probably would have put on Harrison, but if he can’t go, we’ll need another player to step up,” Nichols said. “Other than that, we’re in good shape. We’ve been fortunate with injuries this year.”
The Kowboys, like the Red Devils, made big plays on special teams. Scooter Fagan’s 75 yard punt return set up Laderrien Wilson’s touchdown at the end of the first half, and Daequan Harrison returned the second half kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown. OHS scored its first touchdown on a fake field goal.
The Kowboys also gave up a Lakeland touchdown on a kick return.
“It swings both ways. We made a couple of good plays, but we also gave one up. We can’t do that this week. If No. 13 (Harrison) gets loose on us, I’m not sure if we have anyone who can catch him,” Nichols said.
The Red Devils run a spread offense. Their defense, as Lake Nona proved last week, is susceptible to big plays.
“Lake Nona really should have won that game. It was 21-7 right before the half, then they let (Harrison) get behind them to make it 21-14 at the half, then they got a big return and it was 21-21 in the third quarter. Even late, they could have won it, but they missed a couple of open guys down the middle.”
The Kowboys prefer to keep the ball on the ground, where they average 288 yards rushing per game.
That is a result of Osceola’s talented stable running backs like Wilson, Fagan, Nazayah Brown, Akiel Hamilton and quarterback Daequan Harrison.
It also is a testament to the development of an offensive line that has three sophomore starters in Andres Osario, Michael Marriott and Parker Braun, along with lettermen Carlos Maxwell, Malik Howard and Kevin Mendez.
“Those guys have come along,” Nichols said.
Kathleen’s defense, like Osceola’s is fast.
“On film they all look the same, a bunch of 6-0 or 6-1 guys who can fly,” Nichols said.
The winner of Friday’s game will host the regional final Nov. 29. Gibsonton East Bay plays at Tampa Sickles in the other regional semifinal Friday. On the other side of the Class 7A northern bracket, Tallahassee Lincoln, which eliminated OHS in the state semifinal round last year, travels to Niceville, and Oak Ridge visits Jacksonville Fletcher.
The state semifinals are Dec. 6, and the Class 7A state championship game in Orlando is Dec. 13.