In the end, it was too much Hayden Carlson and too much Jonathan Mallan.
The senior duo combined for more than 500 all-purpose yards and accounted for four touchdowns, as Steinbrenner (12-1-0) held on to defeat Osceola, 29-22, in the Class 8A, Region 2 championship game at Harry Ramsey Field on Friday night.
“Going in, I was somewhat worried that they might be a bad matchup for us,” Osceola Head Coach Doug Nichols said. “They had a senior quarterback who can really spin it, they had tall, skilled receivers and two really good running backs. At the end of the day it was a problem for our young linebackers and defensive backs. They were able to exploit it.”
It did not take long for the Kowboys to fall in a hole. On the first play from scrimmage, Carlson, the quarterback, fired a backward pass to the right flat to Milan, who threw the ball back across the field to Deon Silas—who took it 72 yards for a touchdown. On the ensuing conversion, the Warriors used more razzle-dazzle, as Silas took a pitch, pulled up short of the line of scrimmage, and hit Carlson with a pass and a 8-0 lead.
After that, the game would settle down until midway through the second quarter. Kowboys senior Dewayne McGee would break a tackle at the line of scrimmage, and race 80 yards for a touchdown to cut the gap to 8-7.
Steinbrenner would answer on their very next possession. Carlson hit senior WR Aiden Bitter on a 56-yard deep ball and two plays later, Milan would bull over from the one to make it 15-7 at the half.
“We fell behind on the first play of the game, but we didn’t panic. We were down eight at the half and we’re getting the ball first in the second half,” Nichols said. “We certainly felt we were in a position to get back into the game.”
And the Kowboys would get back into the game by doing what they do best. QB Devon Wells led Osceola on a 13-play, 85-yard drive that was capped by 1-yard Jamo Jones touchdown run. The ensuing two point conversion failed, but Osceola cut the deficit to 15-13. The drive would also take 5:52 off the clock.
It would be as close as Osceola would get for the rest of the night.
Steinbrenner would answer with a quick touchdown to make it 22-13. Milan would pick up 42 yards on two screen passes and Carlson would cap the drive on a quick 8-yard touchdown slant to Jett Law.
“That was a key point in the game. After we made that long touchdown drive we needed a stop,” Nichols said. “Unfortunately they scored fairly quickly.”
After a stop, the Warriors would get a defensive stop of their own and then extend the lead to 29-13 with a 10-yard touchdown run for Millan midway through the fourth quarter.
But Osceola, who was playing in their fifth regional final in 10 years under Nichols, would not quit. Wells would bust loose on a 35-yard keeper for a touchdown to cut the lead to 29-19 with 4:29 remaining.
On the ensuing Steinbrenner possession, the Kowboy’s defense forced and recovered a fumble at midfield. After two quick first downs, the drive would stall and Osceola settled on a 31-yard Spencer Richards field goal to make it a one-score game, 29-22.
An on-sides bloop kickoff went out of bounds to set up Steinbrenner near its own 40. On a fourth and three play, the Warriors lined up to go for it, but Carlson dropped back and delivered a perfect 52-yard punt that dropped dead on the Osceola 3-yard line with just over two minutes to go.
Four plays netted a -2 yards for Osceola and after taking over on downs, Carlson would take a knee twice to end the game.
Carlson finished the game 15 of 22 for 276 yards and a score. Mallan had 72 yards on the passing touchdown, caught four passes for 89 yards and rushed 12 times for 72 yards and two more scores.
For Osceola, Wells threw a career high 19 times for 105 yards and added 51 yards rushing with a score. Playing in his last game, McGee had 128 yards rushing on 12 carries and caught four passes for 74 yards. Sophomore Ja’Randy Swint had 76 yards on 14 carries.
“I could not be prouder how our kids fought to the end,” Nichols added. “The passion they played with rejuvenated me during the season. They made coaching fun again.”
Osceola finished with a 10-2 record, winning 10 or more games for the 8th time in 10 season under Nichols.