By J. Daniel Pearson
For the News-Gazette
It seems like every year, Osceola High School fields a football team that uses a ball-control rushing offense and a stingy defense to manhandle its opponents and win at least 10 games.
Friday night’s opener featured much of the same, as the Kowboys rushed for nearly 300 yards, recorded five quarterback sacks and forced two turnovers in a 28-14 win over Lake Gibson.
Same old, same old.
Except for one thing. It wasn’t the same. Junior quarterback Davon Wells passed for two touchdowns – both in the first half – to account for half Osceola’s four touchdown total on then night.
When asked when was the last time Osceola threw two touchdown passes in a half, the public address announcer guessed in the 1990s, while athletic director Jim Bird simply shook his head and said he had “no idea when it last happened.”
It wasn’t like Wells threw a lot in the game. He completed 3-pf-4 passes for 71 yards, but one went 18 yards to Colton Weismore for a score as Osceola built a 13-0 lead and the other went for 42 yards and a TD to DeWayne McGee in the final minute of the first half to put the Kowboys up 21-7.
Touchdown passes aside, it was still a pretty typical game by Kowboy standards.
McGee led a stable of six runners that compiled 298 yards on 49 carries. He toted the ball 12 times for 118 yards to go with his touchdown reception. Wells added a 26-yard touchdown run while Rashaun Dudley added 46 yards on 11 carries and added a 5-yard touchdown. Timius Williams added 78 yards on nine carries.
Although Lake Gibson was never closer than seven poinst, Osceola did need some big plays from its defense. Trailing 7-0, Braves quarterback Travis Williams hit tight end Nate Beymer over the middle for 56 yards, only to see Osceola defenders run him down and strip the ball from behind to force a turnover that Deshawn Baker deep in Kowboy territory.
The defense recorded an interception by Nehimiah Harris, a fumble recovery and three turnovers on downs to go with five quarterback sacks – including three by junior defensive tackle Mario Kendricks.
Still, head coach Doug Nichols was not overly pleased with his team’s inability to put the game away
“We had a 21-7 lead at halftime and were getting the ball first in the second half. We told our kids it was the most important drive of the game and I knew if we scored, we could take control,” Nichols said. “And what happens? We get two false start penalties on third and one plays and then get another big play negated for having 12 men on the field. We end up punting.”
After the drive stalled, Osceola did get the ball back and take a 21-7 lead on Dudley’s 5-yard scoring run, but on the ensuing kickoff, Sam McCall broke containment and raced 81 yards for a touchdown to cut the gap back to two scores at 28-14. But the Braves got no closer.
“For a first game there were some negatives but a lot of positives,” Nichols added. “I thought our defense played a great game by forcing turnovers and getting after the quarterback. We ran the ball fairly well and I even have to take some of the penalties with a grain of salt. Two of the false starts were made by freshmen offensive linemen playing in their first varsity game and the too many men on the field penalty was on me, not our players. Obviously we have a lot to improve on, but again we got the win and saw some good things tonight.”
Osceola travel to St. Cloud next week. The Kowboys have won 12 consecutive games in that rivalry that dates back to 1925.
South Lake 50, Liberty 32
By Ken Jackson
For nearly a half, the Liberty Chargers were hitting on all cylinders, scoring 32 points in the first 22 minutes of their regular-season opener against South Lake and looking like they’d give Coach Brandon Pennington a win in his first game at the helm that’d count in the standings.
But just before halftime, Eagles running back Kelly Joiner and quarterback Baylee Heuser imposed their wills, as the visitors scored the game’s final 29 points and won, 50-32.
Joiner ran for 273 yards on 23 carries and five touchdowns, three coming in the final five minutes of the second quarter that turned a 32-21 Liberty lead into a 36-32 South Lake lead at halftime.
The Chargers moved the ball very effectively in the first half en route to taking the lead. They’d tally 336 yards of offense, but only 88 of them came in the second half. They also hurt themselves with 117 yards in penalties, including six personal fouls, two which kept one of South Lake’s touchdown drives alive.
“It’s funny to call this team young with 20 seniors, but they’re not used to success, so all of this is going to be a process,” Pennington said. “Tonight we showed who we are: a growing football team that ran out of gas in the second half. Last year this team would have run us off the field, but we went toe-to-toe with them for, well, 22 minutes.”
Liberty quarterback Jaelen Ray was 7-for-24 passing for 101 yards and ran for another 85. His receivers dropped seven passes, but La’Randy Swint caught one, a 31-yard touchdown pass, and after Ray scored the two-point conversion the Chargers led 8-7.
Joiner gave the Eagles a 14-8 lead with his second touchdown run, but Liberty would score 24 of the game’s next 31 points to take a 32-21 lead. Donavin Johnson (15 carries, 81 yards) scored on a 14-yard run, and Lamar Patterson stepped in front of a Heuser pass on South Lake’s next drive and returned it 66 yards for a score. Sterley St. Felix (10-69) later scored on a 12-yard run with 2:09 left in the first half, but Joiner scored on runs of 45 and 75 yards 48 seconds apart to flip the script.
The Chargers have a bye week before facing Poinciana in the annual Battle of the Boulevard on Sept. 7.
Boone 24, Gateway 8
Space Coast 21, Harmony 17
Celebration 18, Poinciana 14
Jupiter 35, Tohopekaliga 0
St. Cloud had a bye week.