OHS falls to Niceville in thriller, 31-30
By Rick Pedone
Niceville junior Zach Bailey kicked the game-winning field goal with 7 seconds to play to push the Eagles past Osceola, 31-30, in a thrilling Class 7A state semifinal game Friday at Niceville.
Sophomore Eli Stove’s 67-yard kickoff return to the Osceola 25, after the Kowboys scored to take the lead, 30-28, with 2:09 to play, put the Eagles in scoring position.
Quarterback Ashton Hooker (12-18-336), who threw four touchdown passes, guided the Eagles to the Kowboys 3, setting the stage for Bailey’s dramatic field goal.
The Kowboys, 11-3, who brought a 10-game winning streak into the game, lost for the second straight year at the state semifinals.
Niceville, 13-1, will play Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer for the state championship Friday at the Citrus Bowl in a rematch of their 2009 Class 4A (now 6A) championship game. Dwyer beat Tarpon Springs East Lake, 31-24, in overtime.
Osceola dominated time of possession as the Eagles were unable to stop the Kowboys option attack most of the night. But, the Kowboys were victimized by four scoring passes of 75, 84, 52 and 70 yards, plus Stove’s long kickoff return.
Down 21-9 at the half, Osceola’s defense came up with a pair of huge turnovers in the third quarter to seize the momentum.
Senior Trayvon Simmons picked off a Hooker pass and returned it to the Eagles’ 5 late in the third quarter. Two plays later, quarterback Daequan Harrison found Santiago Hoffman on a 3-yard TD pass to make it 21-16.
On Niceville’s next series, Hooker fumbled and Kowboys defensive lineman Devin Christensan recovered at the Eagles 31. Osceola drove to the Niceville 11, but the drive stalled there.
Osceola’s defense held, and the Eagles punted to Scooter Fagan, who received at his 35, bobbled the ball, then he weaved through the Niceville cover team for a 65-yard touchdown return that gave OHS the lead, 22-21, with 8:56 to play. Harrison passed to Hoffman for two points to make it 24-21.
But, as happened much of the night, Niceville struck back with a big play, this one Hooker’s screen pass to Stove, who jetted 70 yards to put the Eagles right back on top, 28-24, with 7:08 to play.
The resilient Kowboys came back to retake the lead, despite an offensive pass interference penalty that backed them up to their 9-yard line on the ensuing drive.
Akiel Hamilton’s 34-yard run to the Kowboys 43 jump-started the drive, then fullback Laderrien Wilson, who gashed the Eagles defense all night for 184 yards, rambled 33 yards to the Niceville 11 four plays later.
Two plays later, backed up to the Niceville 23, facing third-and-21, Harrison got the ball to Fagan and the Kowboys senior running back completed the 21-yard touchdown play to give OHS its 30-28 lead.
In the first half, OHS had three long drives, two resulting in scores. But, Hooker’s talented arm was the difference. He threw three long touchdown passes, two to Aaron Willis for 75 and 52 yards, and the other to Tyre McCants for 84 yards. His 52-yard toss to Willis, with 27 seconds to play in the first half, made it 21-9. Hooker threw for 246 yards in the first half.
After a slow start when both teams committed turnovers in the first quarter, the Kowboys took a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter on Josh Marsh’s 23-yard field goal. That capped a 73-yard drive, highlighted by Fagan’s 49-yard option pass to Joey Casillas to the Eagles’ 8.
But, on the next play from scrimmage, Hooker found Willis alone in the Kowboys secondary for the 75-yard pass play that put Niceville on top, 7-3.
The Kowboys countered by moving 78 yards in 13 plays with Fagan and Wilson punching holes in the Eagles defense. Wilson plowed into the end zone on a 5-yard run to give OHS a 9-7 lead with 4:28 left in the first half.
Again, Hooker erased Osceola’s lead quickly. After the snap went over Hooker’s head for a loss of seven yards on first down, the senior quarterback found McCants open deep for his second touchdown throw to put Niceville up, 14-9.
The Kowboys ensuing drive stalled at the Eagles 40, and after a punt, Niceville took over at its 20 with 1:53 left before intermission.
Hooker converted on third down with a 13-yard pass to McCants to keep the chains moving. Four plays later, from the Eagles 48, Hooker lined up wide, took a pitch from Tayjon Culley, and found Willis open for the 52-yard TD play with 27 seconds left.
Osceola made its seventh consecutive playoff appearance and reached the state semifinals for the third time during that span.