In addition to the Tohopekaliga Tigers, two other Osceola County teams finished their season on a high note as both the Celebration Storm and Poinciana Eagles posted wins.
The Storm won a nail-biter, defeating Liberty 21-20; while Poinciana won four games in the regular season for the first time in almost two decades, defeating Cocoa Beach, 41-0.
Gateway, which entered the weekend with a 0-9 record, led Olympia for three and a half quarters before giving up a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter and coming up on the short end of a 20-16 decision.
Harmony hung tough with a really good Lake Brantley team for the first half, before dropping a 42-28 decision; while St. Cloud lost to a top five (Class 2A) Lakeland Victory Christian Academy team.
Osceola (8-1) had a bye week but will return to action this week hosting a Region quarterfinal playoff game.
• Olympia 20, GATEWAY 16
Philip Bangura rushed for one touchdown and returned an interception 82 yards for another score, as the Gateway Panthers built a 16-7 lead over Olympia High School in the first half.
A Donrick Means rushing touchdown cut the lead to 16-14 in the third quarter before Garrett Velin capped off a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to give Olympia the lead. The game ended that way as the Panthers could not score on two subsequent possessions.
“It was the same story all year, when we got to the fourth quarter our tanks where on empty,” Gateway Head Coach Marlin Roberts said. “Still we had a chance at the start of the fourth quarter to go up two scores and possibly put the game away but our failure to put points on the board hurt us.”
That situation occurred when the Panthers were leading 16-7 and had the ball first-and-ten on the Olympia 30-yard line, but a delay of game penalty and a holding penalty moved the ball back to midfield and the Panthers would end up turning the ball over on downs.
With the loss, Gateway dropped to 0-10 on the season, and Roberts said it was both the toughest, but possibly the most rewarding season of his coaching career.
“It was the toughest year, but not because we didn’t win a game, but because the deck was stacked against us from the beginning. We lost so many kids when the new school opened (Toho) two years ago and we weren’t able to recover from it. It was the most rewarding year because we had a bunch of freshman and sophomores who truly wanted to be there and wanted to learn and wanted to get better. They played hard all season and never quit.”
Roberts also praised the efforts of seniors Bangura and Kyjaun Allen.
“Those two kids could have transferred out of the program a few years ago, but they both elected to stay and that meant so much to both me and this team,” Roberts said. “Both of them had to play practically every snap on offense, defense and special teams. They never left the field, they never quit and they provided excellent leadership to the younger guys all season. They taught them what it means to be a varsity football player.”
Roberts added that he hopes a Division 1 program gives Bangura a chance at the next level.
“Unfortunately we were so young and thin at offensive line, Philip did not get much of a chance to show what he was capable of,” Roberts noted. “But whether it’s on offense or defense, some college is going to get a great player.”
• CELEBRATION 21, LIBERTY 20
Celebration’s defense stopped a two-point conversion in the final seconds of the game to escape with a 21-20 win over Liberty High School in the season finale for both county teams on Friday night.
“They have gone for two most of the time on extra points this season, so the decision did not take us by surprise,” Celebration Head Coach Jay Sobke said. “Furthermore they had a tendency to run to the quarterback on those conversions. Our guys made a great read and we were fortunate to make the stop.”
Senior Will Bonn accounted for three touchdown passes in his final game for the Storm, throwing scoring passes to Anthony Gonzalez and Joe Hall; while also scoring on a one-yard run.
“It was a good solid year for us as we continue to build a program,” Sobke said. “We took some great steps forward. We doubled our win total, won our last game of the season for the first time in years and won our homecoming game. We came within one game of just our second winning season in school history. There is a lot for our seniors to be proud of and for our younger kids to build off of.”
For Liberty, who finished 1-9 on the season, they got a touchdown from linebacker turned fullback Beji Auguste; and were able to pull to within one point thanks to the outstanding play of freshman Henry Tolliver. Tolliver replaced John Smith at quarterback, and led the Chargers on a long-touchdown drive, capped by a 30-yard pass from Tolliver to Marc Jean Baptiste.
After the potential game-winning two-point conversion failed, Liberty did recover the onsides kick but only had time for a couple desperation plays.
“I felt that if our fullback and quarterback would have turned that two point conversion up immediately, it might have worked,” Liberty head coach Brandon Pennington said. “But they hesitated and tried taking it outside and Celebration did a great job of stopping it.”
Although the team finished with just one win, Pennington said he will always remember this Chargers team for their fight.
“When we lost the first five or six games, it would have been easy for this team to go through the motions, but I never saw that once. They fought like crazy to the last play of the last game of the season.”
He added that he saw a lot of positive signs for the next few years.
“Starting with Henry Tolliver, we have some young guys that really showed a lot of promise this year. We need to get in the weight room and get bigger and stronger, but I definitely saw some signs that we have some good players coming up in the near future.”
• POINCIANA 41, Cocoa Beach 0
The Eagles won a fourth game in a single season for the first time in almost two decades as Randy Beeken’s Poinciana (4-6) team concluded the 2019 campaign with an impressive 41-0 road win over Cocoa Beach.
It was a dominating performance on both sides of the ball. Offensively, quarterback Justin Carpenter threw two touchdown passes to Anthony Holtham and Treyvion Gunter; while running backs “K” Coachman, Conner Wilson and Ty Lange-Bailey scored rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, the Eagles starting “11” posted its first shutout of the season, led by linebacker Qualen Hill – who had double digit tackles and also scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery “scoop and score.” Hill entered the game leading the nation in tackles with 176 in just nine games.
“Overall it was a satisfying season, we doubled our win total from a year ago and won four games for the first time since 2000,” Beeken said. “Our goal for next year will to be to keep building on that momentum. We lose a lot of seniors this year, but we will have some promising players coming back.”
• Victory Christian Academy 30, ST. CLOUD 6
St. Cloud (6-3) entered the final week of the 2019 season knowing that a victory would give them a solid chance of landing one of eight available at-large playoff spots, but Victory Christian Academy, a Class 2A Powerhouse located in Lakeland, had different ideas as the Bulldogs went down to defeat, 30-6.
The game was close for the first half, with the game scoreless in the final seconds of the first half, when the Bulldogs stopped Victory short of the goal line as the buzzer sounded. But a facemask penalty gave them an untimed down and they scored to take a 7-0 lead at the half.
“Victory is an outstanding team on both sides of the ball and if they are not playing into December in the playoffs I will be surprised,” St. Cloud Head Coach Bryan Smart said. “We played them dead even in the first half but just ran out of steam in the second half.”
Victory, now 8-1 on the season, would extend the lead to 24-0 before St. Cloud finally hit the end zone on a short scoring pass from Garhett King to Romeo Median. VCA would tack on a late touchdown for the 30-6 final.
“We got off to a great start this season but finished the year 1-4, and that’s on me,” Smart said. “I have to do a better job of coaching.”
The injury bug hurt St. Cloud in the second half of the season. On Friday’s finale, the Bulldogs were missing eight players out of their starting lineup.
“We lose 15 seniors from this year’s team, but we return a solid corps of players for next year,” Smart added.
• Lake Brantley 42, HARMONY 28
Harmony fell behind 14-0 early, made a solid second quarter run, but would eventually fall in a 42-28 loss to Lake Brantley (7-3) to conclude its 2019 season.
Trailing by two touchdowns, the Longhorns would get on the board on a 1-yard touchdown run by Robert Madril midway through the second quarter to cut the gap to 13-7. But on the Patriots next possession, Anthony Williams would break loose on a 77–yard touchdown run and the ensuing two-point conversion made it 21-7.
But Keaghan Black would make a game of it in the second quarter. The quarterback capped a drive with a 1-yard touchdown run before tying the game late in the second quarter with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kenneth Torres to make it a 21-21 game at the half.
Williams would put Lake Brantley back on top with a second long touchdown run, this one coming from 65-yards out as the Patriots went up 28-21. A Noah Hudak 11-yard touchdown run, and another touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter upped the lead to 42-21. A 15-yard touchdown run by Harmony’s Tyler Emans cut the lead to 14, but the Longhorns could get to closer in dropping to 2-8 on the season.