Kowboys beat Sickles, 19-14; seek sponsors for Niceville trip
Osceola’s Daequan Harrison scrambles for yardage during the first half of Osceola’s impressive win over Tampa-area Sickles High School.
By Rick Pedone
Tampa Sickles’ heralded running back Ray Ray McCloud III came into Friday’s 7A-2 regional championship game against Osceola with 2,262 yards and 26 touchdowns, and he left Kowboys field with not a whole lot more.
McCloud (14 carries, 34 yards), like the rest of the Gryphons offense, was stifled by Osceola’s swarming, smash mouth defense, and the Kowboys offense wore down Sickles, scoring two touchdowns in the second half, to pull out a 19-14 victory.
Osceola, 11-2, will play Niceville Friday for the Class 7A north semifinal. Niceville, 12-1, defeated Neptune Beach Fletcher, 38-17, for the 7A-1 title.
The Kowboys will leave Thursday and work out at Crestview High before the semifinal game.
OHS Athletic Director Jim Bird is asking the community for financial support because the 415-mile trip to Niceville will cost the school an estimated $10,000 for buses, lodging and meals. Those wishing to support the team may contact Bird at 407-518-5413 during school hours, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Any contribution at all will help, even if it’s a case of Powerade,” Bird said.
Nazayah Brown ran 1-yard for the game-winning touchdown with 5:13 to play, capping a 47-yard drive that was salvaged when quarterback Daequan Harrison completed his only pass of the night (1-3-10) for 10 yards to Santiago Hoffman on a fourth-and-5 play at the Gryphons 22.
Laderrien Wilson’s (20-115, 1 TD) 21-yard counter play in the first quarter put the Kowboys on top, 7-0, and Scooter Fagan’s 4-yard run around the corner on the first play of the final quarter drew the Kowboys close at 14-13. Fagan’s run capped a 99-yard Kowboys drive that was aided by a pair of major penalties against Sickles, 11-2.
“I say it every week, but I’m never worried about our kids. I know they are going to come out and play,” Kowboys Coach Doug Nichols said. “They’re a special bunch.”
McCloud, reportedly hobbled by an ankle injury he suffered against Gibsonton East Bay last week, spent most of the game flanked out wide at receiver. That strategy paid off when he scored on a 65-yard slant pattern at 3:09 of the first quarter to tie the score. But, other than that play, McCloud was not a factor. Each time he touched the ball the Kowboys closed on him. His longest run of the game was for seven yards.
“We didn’t really have anything designed to stop him,” Kowboys linebacker Riley Nicholson said. “Yes, he’s a playmaker, but we weren’t trying to just lock up on him. We all were playing man on man, taking care of our responsibilities.”
The climactic play of the game was fitting. Nicholson and safety Dominic Lee converged on McCloud as the Gryphons runner tried to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Sickles 49 with 2:13 to play. McCloud couldn’t make it close as he was drilled at the line of scrimmage. The Kowboys took over and ran out the clock.
“As soon as I saw him break to the right, I came up as fast as I could,” Lee, a senior, said.
Lee was the last remaining starter in the secondary after Treyvon Simmons left the game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. OHS entered the game without starting cornerbacks Juaquan Jenkins (hamstring) and Stephon Brown (turf toe).
“We’re just doing our jobs, staying focused,” Lee said.
Sickles took a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter following the Kowboys first of two turnovers, a fumble at the OHS 44. On a busted fourth-and-6 play, Sickles quarterback Issac Holder (13-21-166, 2 TDs) scrambled and lofted a 31-yard TD pass to Jaaron Barrett to put Sickles ahead at the half. Barrett pushed off OHS defensive back Demetrius Young to create space at the goal line, but he wasn’t flagged.
The Gryphons scored again just before the intermission, but the 14-yard TD pass play from Holder to Barrett was nullified by a holding penalty.
On the next play, Kowboys linebacker Mikeice Adams recovered a fumble when Holder was sacked by Derek Rivers to keep OHS within one score.
“There wasn’t a lot said at halftime. It was quiet for like 15 minutes. I guess that was good. We asked each other if we had seen anything different from what we had seen on the tape, and everyone said no,” Nichols said. “The good thing about our kids is they aren’t going to panic. We aren’t the kind of team that is going to make a bunch of changes. We are what we are.”
What the Kowboys were in the second half was dominating.
Starting with the opening drive of the third quarter, OHS held the ball for 37 plays and 153 total yards. Sickles ran 19 plays for 44 yards in the second half, and most of those came late in the fourth quarter as Holder tried to rally the Gryphons.
Osceola offensive line Coach Mike Braun said his linemen, who often include three sophomores, took care of business in the second half.
“They did a good job. They kept after it and we held the ball most of the third quarter,” he said.
Kowboys defensive coordinator Scott Spencer said a big part of the reason that the Kowboys defense was so effective in the second half was that the OHS offense kept the Gryphons high-powered offense standing on the sidelines.
“That was a big, big part of it,” Spencer said. “I told the guys at halftime that 14 points wasn’t going to win this game. We knew what we were coming up against. We had a back coming in with 2,400 yards, and we were giving up an average of 50 yards rushing. We weren’t going to change anything. We figured we’d see what happened when we got together, and I guess we did OK.”
The Kowboys had a 69-yard TD run by Harrison called back by a procedure penalty in the first quarter. That would have made the score 14-0.
“That was a big momentum swing. Who knows what happens if we get that lead,” Nichols said. “Even when we missed the PAT after the second touchdown and we were behind 14-13, the kids didn’t get down. I told them that we had to score again to win anyway, so what’s the big deal. They picked up on that and they were fine.
OHS out-gained Sickles, 286-239, as Wilson and Harrison (20-99) consistently kept the chains moving in the second half.
Nichols said that between his team’s dominance at the line of scrimmage after the intermission, and its experience in big-game situations (this was Osceola’s ninth playoff game over the past three seasons), he was confident that the Kowboys would advance to the state semifinal round for the second consecutive season.
“Our kids don’t pull that Kowboys helmet on unless they expect to be playing for a state championship,” he said. “That’s what they expect to do, and those always are our expectations here.”
Tarpon Springs East Lake will play Fort Lauderdale Dwyer for the Class 7A south semifinal championship Friday.
The 7A championship game is Dec. 13.