OHS advances, 28-14
By Rick Pedone
Not even six minutes into the game, Osceola quarterback Daequan Harrison already had rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns, Osceola led 13-0, and stunned Kathleen High fans had to be asking themselves, “Where’s Ray Lewis when you need him?”
Lewis, the retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker and two-time Super Bowl champion, started his career at Kathleen two decades ago and it would have required all of his football skills to slow the Kowboys offense on a night when it amassed 430 yards, 315 in the first half when OHS built a 28-7 lead on its way to a 28-14 7A Region 2 semifinal victory at Johnny Johnson Field.
Osceola, 10-2, will host Tampa Sickles, a 27-0 winner over Gibsonton East Bay, for the regional championship next Friday at Kowboys field. Sickles is 11-1.
“We’re not a flashy football team. You have to look in the mirror, and what you see, that’s who you are. We’re the type that has to get in the mud and punch you in the mouth. That’s who we are, and that’s the way we have to play to be successful,” Kowboys Coach Doug Nichols, 6-3 in the playoffs, said.
Harrison showed plenty of flash in racing 76 yards on a read-option on the game’s second play for his first touchdown, and again when he sprinted 58 yards for the second score on Osceola’s next possession.
“It was nothing special, I just had to make the read and then it opened up and I took off. I got some good blocking from the line. Everybody did a good job,” Harrison, who gained 198 yards on 12 carries, said.
With Red Devils defenders fixated on stopping the option, the Kowboys went over the top on their fourth possession early in the second quarter when Harrison found tight end Santiago Hoffman 10 yards behind the defense for a 65-yard touchdown play that built the lead to 21-0 after Harrison ran for two points.
Only an 85-yard kickoff return by Marquis Zimmerman for Kathleen’s lone touchdown of the first half slowed Osceola’s momentum, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent Osceola from grinding out a 14-play, 69-yard drive climaxed by Scooter Fagan’s (12-74, 1 TD) 5-yard scoring dash. Josh Marsh’s PAT made it 28-7 with a minute left in the half. Osceola outgained Kathleen 315-52 after the first two periods.
Holding a three-touchdown lead, and with the OHS defense bewildering the Red Devils’ touted quarterback, Kevin Wilson (11-28-74), about the only way the Kowboys would lose the game would be to beat themselves.
And, they certainly tried that in the second half. In five possessions, not counting a kill-the-clock formation in the final seconds, OHS punted one time, turned it over three times, and had a punt blocked.
All of those miscues accounted for 0 Red Devils points as Osceola’s defense was relentless.
After allowing Kathleen, 9-3, to get on the board on its first possession of the second half on a 55-yard run by Anthony Ware to close the gap to 28-14, the OHS defense shut down Kathleen, which finished the game with 213 total yards.
Osceola’s defensive line of Dalton Banton, Devin Christiansen, Derek Rivers and T.J. Kelley was in Wilson’s face all night. Banton’s 13-yard sack stifled one drive, and the Osceola pass rush confused Wilson just when it seemed the Red Devils still had a chance to pull the game out at the OHS 10 with 3:30 left. But, when Wilson dropped back, he was surrounded by Kowboys defenders and Wilson tried to lateral to a teammate, who turned out to be offensive lineman Zach Shinn. Shinn was not expecting or equipped to handle the ball, and the result was a fumble that Kowboys linebacker Shavai Gordon scooped up and returned for a touchdown. The TD was called back because of a block in the back on the return, but the turnover essentially ended the game.
Gordon said the Kowboys didn’t vary much from their normal game plan except to drop the linebackers into coverage.
“We study a lot of film,” he said. “We did a pretty good job. We can get better, but I’m always happy with a win.”
Banton said his job was to contain Wilson, who can create plays on the fringe.
“My job was to shut down the quarterback. I had to follow him all over the field and not let him get outside,” Banton said. “We kept two tackles inside, and I had my man one-on one outside.”
Kathleen receiver Ja’Von Harrison, who scored four touchdowns against Lake Nona in the quarterfinal round, was not a factor. He had four catches for 8 – count ‘em – 8 yards.
“We knew we had to account for him because he’s a heck of an athlete. We had to keep him contained as much as we could,” OHS Defensive Coordinator Scott Spencer said. “It’s the kids that did it.”
The Kowboys played with a patchwork secondary that went into the game missing cornerback Juaquan Jenkins, then it lost Stephon Brown to an ankle injury in the fourth quarter.
Safeties Dominic Lee and Treyvon Simmons, and corner Demetrious Young never let the Red Devils get open deep, and sophomore cornerback Carlos Becker helped bat away a fourth-down pass intended for Kathleen’s Harrison in the end zone.
“I don’t worry about the defense because those guys know what they need to do,” Nichols said. “We didn’t help them much with the turnovers in the second half, but they didn’t let up at all.”
Banton said the Kowboys won’t be letting up anytime soon.
“We played a good game. We stood up when we had to,” Banton said.
This will be the Kowboys third trip to the regional finals over the past six seasons. It will be Sickles first.