After winning their ninth straight district championship, the Osceola Kowboys (8-1-0) will set their eyes on a bigger prize when they host the Riverview Sharks (8-2-0) in a Class 8A, Region 2 quarterfinal playoff game. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
Osceola earned the opportunity to host when it won the District 7 Championship with a 4-0 record. The Kowboys enter the post-season as the No. 3 seed in the region and have won their last seven games — posting four shutouts during the win streak.
Riverview, located in Hillsborough County, lost a share of the district title with a week seven defeat at the hands of Sarasota Riverview. The loss led to a second place finish for the Sharks in the Class 8A, District 8 race, but they still earned enough points to warrant at-large berth in the state playoffs.
The winner of the Osceola-Riverview contest will advance to a Regional Semifinal game against the winner of the Lennard (7-3-0) at Dr. Phillips (8-2-0) game. If Dr. Phillips wins, they will host a second round game; the Kowboys could host with a win and a Dr. Phillips loss.
Although his team is favored at home in the first round game, Osceola Head Coach Doug Nichols said it would be anything but easy.
“Since last spring, I have reminded our players that Osceola has won exactly one playoff game in the last three years. That’s not really up to acceptable standards for Kowboys’ football. Riverview is an exceptional football team coming from a really tough district. We will have our work cut out for us.”
Coming into the game, the Sharks are averaging 30 points per contest; while giving up 19.1 points per game. Like Osceola, they like to run the ball. The Sharks have five different players who have 150 yards or more rushing this season, led by quarterback Stazion Gage (82-674-10 TD), and speedster running back Cheyenne Greaves (65-745-6).
All told, seven different ball carriers are averaging 6.9 yards per carry or better for Riverview, and as a team they are averaging 9.5 yards per carry.
Gage doesn’t throw a lot of passes, but when he does, he is effective. The quarterback has completed 54 percent of his passes on the year for 1286 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Greaves (14-304-21.7 yards per catch) and WR Kadeem Robinson (13-250-25.0 ypc) are Gage’s favorite targets and have combined for five of Riverview’s 10 touchdown passes.
Osceola will counter with a team that has averaged 37.1 points per game, but has allowed just 7.3 points per game.
Like Riverview, the Kowboys will throw a lot of different runners at opponents, as Osceola is five-deep at that position. Led by the trio of senior Dewayne McGee (70-700-6 TD), Ja Randy Swint (92-757-9 TD) and Roshaun Dudley (42-288-2), the Kowboys are also averaging a tick under 10 yards per carry as a team.
Senior quarterback Davon Wells has developed into a dual threat player. He has rushed the ball 42 times for 475 yards and five touchdowns, but has also completed 58 percent of his passes for 489 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Kowboys can throw a wrinkle at opponents by using sophomore Blake Birchler at quarterback (51.4 percent, 403 yards, 5 touchdowns) while keeping Wells in the game at slot receiver.
Whether both are in the game or not, Osceola has 16 touchdown passes this year, the most in the Nichols era. “We have been predominantly a running team for so long, the ability to throw the ball this year has really helped our offense,” Nichols said. “When defenses stick eight or nine defenders close to the line, we’ve been able to go over top occasionally.”
McGee has been a favorite target in the passing game, averaging 22 yards per reception (18-387) with eight touchdown grabs. Seven other receivers have also caught touchdown passes for Osceola.
Osceola’s defense has been both opportunistic and stout. They have recorded 10 interceptions, four fumble recoveries, 24 sacks and 29 tackles for loss this season to go with the five shutouts. Dylan Ruiz (12 quarterback sacks), Daniel Cooper and freshman Jeremiah Wilson (3 interceptions each) and linebacker/safety Nolin Eaddy (44 tackles) have led the Osceola defense.
Riverview is not without its standouts on defense. James Moore (11 quarterback sacks) has been a disruptive force on the defensive line; while senior Devin White has seven interceptions this season.
In many ways, the two teams are similar, so look for the team that has the most success on the ground to come out of the game victorious.