By Ken Jackson
There was a buzz at Austin-Tindall Sports Complex Friday night for a few reasons.
No. 1: The complex debuted its new football stadium, the crown jewel of a $10.7 million renovation, with a crowd of around 1,500.
No. 2: The first game in the stadium was the Kickoff Classic between a pair of state championship contending squads, Osceola and Dr. Phillips.
No. 3: Osceola, technically the “road” team in the contest although it didn’t cross a county line to get to the game, avenged a 17-13 regional semifinal playoff loss in November with a mostly-dominating 21-3 win over the Panthers.
“It was an awesome night, we were very fortunate to play here, and I’m dying to come back and play here again,” said OHS Coach Doug Nichols, who barely scratched the surface of his team’s performance.
Junior quarterback Davon Wells, leading the Kowboys offense for the first time in a game where people would remember the final score, ran for and threw for touchdowns. The defense, led by “new old” defensive coordinator Scott Spencer, kept the Panthers from moving the ball in chunks and held them to 142 yards.
The defensive line, which after losing three starters to graduation last year, was less a question mark and more an exclamation point. Boris Espinosa, Jacob McKenney, Dylan Ruiz, Mario Kendricks and Bryce Bennett combined for three sacks, three tackles for loss, and a fourth-quarter fumble forced by Ruiz and recovered by Bennett which would not allow Dr. Phillips to get back in the game.
In fact, a pair of muffed punts that gave the Panthers short fields made the defense work to keep the game close early on. The first one extended Dr. Phillips’ first drive and resulted in a field goal, the first points of the game, and the second came early in the third quarter, but the defense turned the Panthers away on a four-and-out.
“I was proud of the effort, and proud of the attitude,” Spencer said after the game. “I can’t wait to spend more time with them. I think we have a chance to be pretty good if the kids continue to work hard.”
Offensively, junior quarterback Davon Wells ran the offense for the first time, and while it wasn’t explosive — OHS ran 41 times for 186 yards, led by freshman fullback Rashaun Dudley (6-55, 1 TD) — it was effective in keeping Dr. Phillips off the field for stretches. Wells, DeWayne McGee (11-37), the only returning running back, and six others carried the ball. Wells was also 2-of-4 passing for 50 yards, a pretty usual Kowboy passer stat line under Coach Nichols.
“Davon did a good job keeping his eyes down the field,” Nichols said. “We’re going to be all right back there. We didn’t panic after the spring game (a scoreless tie against Bishop Moore), so let’s not set off the streamers after this.
“The defense played really well. If we don’t get a couple stops there, this might have gotten out of hard.”
Trailing 3-0, Osceola’s first-half touchdown came from all three phases of the game — defense, special teams and offense. After Kendricks sacked Panthers’ quarterback Brenden Cyr at the Panthers 2, Colton Weismore returned a punt 12 yards to the 23, and three plays later Wells found McGee in the end zone from 17 yards out.
Clinging to a 7-3 lead, Osceola got breathing room with Wells, on 4th-and-2, called his own number and scored from 11 yards out on an option read play. Two minutes later, following Bennett’s fumble recovery, Dudley iced the game with an 11-yard TD run of his own.
The Kowboys will be home next Friday to open the regular season against Lake Gibson at 7:30 p.m.
Other scores from Friday:
Gateway 24, Tampa Freedom 13
Harmony 52, Palm Bay Bayside 0
Liberty 45, Palatka 14
Boone 35, St. Cloud 9
Fort Meade 56, Celebration 24
Clearwater Academy 16, Poinciana 0
University 13, Tohopekaliga 0; Freedom 13, Tohopekaliga 0 (Jamboree halves)