The fifth oldest rivalry in state high school history will resume on Friday night when the St. Cloud Bulldogs (5-0) travel to Osceola (4-1) for the 96th time.
St. Cloud, which has lost 21 of the last 23 meetings, including a 34-14 decision last year, is looking forward to the opportunity to reverse those fortunes against Osceola, which won its third straight game last week by rolling over Cypress Creek, 41-0, in a game that went to a running clock early in the third quarter.
“They (the Kowboys) have dominated the series of a long time, but it is still Osceola-St. Cloud and it still means an awful lot,” St. Cloud Head Coach Bryan Smart said. “For decades we were the only two high schools in the county and it was always one of the biggest events of the year. Now we have eight public high schools that play football in the county, but this rivalry is still pretty special, especially to the kids who play in it.”
Although both teams are off to great starts with a combined 9-1 record (Osceola’s only loss was to then No. 11 ranked Miami Columbus High School in Week 2 of the regular season), Smart says his team will have to play a near “perfect game” to upset Osceola.
“Coach Nichols has run an incredible program over there for the last decade,” Smart said.
“They are big, fast, athletic, talented and very well coached. They are not only the best team in the county but year-in and year-out they are one of the best teams in the state. I told our kids after Friday’s win at Gateway that in order to compete, we need to be perfect – starting with a perfect week of practice.”
Although St. Cloud defeated Osceola in an overtime thriller (41-35) in 2010, the Kowboys were later awarded a 2-0 forfeit win in that game on an ineligible player issue. That kept alive what would become 13 consecutive wins in the series for Osceola and a 64-27-4 series lead. St. Cloud’s last wins came a decade and a half ago, when the Bulldogs won on back-to-back years by a 27-24 margin in 2004 and a 28-24 decision in 2005.
Since that win turned forfeit loss in 2010, the closest the Bulldogs have come was a 16-point loss (34-18) in 2016,
Although they do not play in the same district or class, Nichols agrees that the rivalry is special.
“I can promise you this game still means a lot to our players, coaches and especially the older fans,” Nichols noted. “Last year I asked our players how many of you have had a dad, an uncle or a brother who played in the St. Cloud-Osceola game and about 15 kids immediately shot up their hands. You can bet those kids who have had relatives play in this game constantly hear something about you better not lose to St. Cloud.”
Head-to-head, Smart is winless against Nichols in eight attempts and the Kowboys have outscored the Bulldogs 303-86 in those games.
Led by senior Dewayne McGee, the Kowboys continue to throw talented running back after talented running back at opponents, playing a ball control style of football that keeps its defense off the field and well-rested.
While McGee, Ja’Randy Swint and quarterback Davon Wells are shifty speedsters that have the ability to break a long run every time they touch the ball. But the Kowboys can also counter with 5-8, 220-pound battering ram in Roshaun Dudley. The sophomore running back has shown the propensity to either run around or through defenders. He scored three touchdowns in a limited role last week against Cypress Creek.
Unlike prior years under Nichols, Osceola has also thrown the ball more frequently this year as quarterbacks Davon Wells and Blake Birchler have combined for 10 touchdown passes this season through just five games.
“The maturation of Wells and the emergence of Blake (a sophomore), has certainly given our offense another dimension,” Nichols noted. “If defenses crowd the box on us, we have been able to go over top a few times this year.”
Defensively the Kowboys are big up front and have shown significant improvement at linebacker and in the secondary as the season has progressed.
Kowboy defensive backs picked off four passes last week and the defense has not allowed more than 21 points in any game this season. Of the just 49 points allowed this year (9.9 per game), 28 have come late in games against reserves.
“As a team, our singular goal is to try to get better each week,’ Nichols said. “We’ve had a few lapses but for the most part I think we are getting there. St. Cloud has some good players on both sides of the ball and will present a good challenge for us.”
Defense has also been a key to the St. Cloud success this season.
Thought to be a potential liability this season, the Bulldog defense has allowed just eight points per game this season and has recorded one shutout against a good Tohopekaliga team (12-0 on Sept. 13) and just missed another shutout on Aug. 29 when Golden (Colorado) scored on the final play of the game in a 41-6 win.
The Bulldog defense has been adept at getting turnovers as well.