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Regional semifinals: Panthers bring high-octane offense

Posted on Wednesday, November 15, 2017 at 3:56 pm

By Ken Jackson
Sports Editor

It didn’t take long after the Osceola Kowboys put the finishing touches on Friday’s 44-16 win over Manatee for the post-game chants to break out to signal the team’s next regional playoff opponent.

“Awww … DP! … Awww … DP!”

It sounds like Alabama wasn’t available.

Osceola defenders Connor Parker, Mario Kendricks and Malachi Wilson drag down Manatee receiver Irone Jackson in Friday’s 44-16 regional quarterfinal victory at Kowboys Field.

The Kowboys knew quickly after the game that Orlando power Dr. Phillips, riding a nearly decade-long streak of district championships, defeated Davenport Ridge, 35-7, and would be coming south for Friday’s Class 8A Region 2 semifinal, setting up one of Central Florida’s most intriguing games this week.

Familiarity often breeds contempt. The Panthers (9-2) came to Kissimmee three months ago for the preseason Kickoff Classic. The game had the pulse rate and intrigue of a playoff game.

The teams initially planned to run second-team players in during the fourth quarter, but the intensity of the finish scrapped that. Osceola won, 30-27, on a Marcos Espana 26-yard field goal and a defensive stop.

Defensive lineman Elliot Bodre, just like he did last week with three sacks, had a big Kickoff Classic role with a sack, recovered fumble and another forced one that sealed that game, with a hit on Panther running back Devodney Alford that stopped a drive at the OHS 24 with 2:41 left.

“It’ll be the same thing (Friday) as it was then, they’ll be athletic and big. To get out of a region like this you have get through somebody who looks and plays like a Dr. Phillips,” OHS Coach Doug Nichols said.

Dr. Phillips quarterback BeSean McCray threw for 250 yards against the Kowboys in August, and has gone on to throw for 1,736 yards (138-for-207, 15 TDs, 6 INTs) this season. A dual threat in the Panthers’ spread attack, he’s also rushed for 464 yards and 6 scores.

The next breath mentions the weapons McCray can hand off (Alford, 137 carries, 933 yards, 10 rushing TDs) or throw (Davarius Bargnare, 42 catches, 605 yards, 8 TDs; three other receivers have 20 or more catches) to. Bargnare has also returned two kickoffs for scores.

The swarming Panthers defense has allowed just 12 points per game and average over 11 tackles per loss, led by linebackers Stephen Dix and Tanner Ingle.

Dr. Phillips’ losses this year were to Wekiva and Apopka, both still alive in 8A Region 1 and could meet next week.

The Panthers jumped out fast on Ridge Friday, building leads of 28-0 after one quarter and 35-0 at halftime. McCray was 10-of-105 passing for 194 yards and three scores.

Friday’s winner will play the winner of Vero Beach and Sarasota Riverview on Nov. 24; Osceola will host should it win Friday. Riverview powered through Gateway, 60-15, last week.

Osceola and Dr. Phillips also tangled in a 2015 regional semifinal game on the Kowboys’ way to their fourth consecutive state semifinal and the Class 8A championship game in Nichols called a “dogfight”. OHS romped to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, only to see it evaporate. Linebacker Trey Shine’s 15-yard interception return for a touchdown with 6:53 left in the fourth quarter put Osceola back in front, and the defense sealed it with stops on the Panthers’ final two possessions.