It’s time for Osceola to begin its annual climb up the playoff football mountain.
The Kowboys, 9-1 after a 21-13 win over Lake Brantley on Friday to close the regular season, will welcome back Bradenton Manatee (6-4) to Henry Ramsey Field this Friday for Region 8A-2 quarterfinal.
The goal is Camping World Stadium, home of the state championships in four weeks, is the goal. The Kowboys made it to back-to-back title games in 2014 (Class 7A) and 2015 (8A) before falling in the quarterfinal in ’16 and in the semifinal last year, to eventual 8A state champion Dr. Phillips.
So this ain’t Osceola’s first rodeo.
The Kowboys swallowed the Hurricanes under, 44-16, last year thanks to six sacks from a defense that held Manatee to minus-19 yards rushing.
Manatee (6-4), off a 44-13 loss to reigning Class 7A state champion Venice, comes in with a new quarterback this year, senior Anthony Squiteri (5-10, 180). But the offense runs through senior playmaker Keyon Fordham (5-7, 170), who can line up behind center, in the backfield or split out wide.
“The new quarterback throws it pretty well,” OHS Coach Doug Nichols said. “The problem is they will get it to (Fordham). He is dangerous, we’ll have to stop him to win.”
If it’s Friday, Nichols looks to run the ball, meaning an offensive line of Delfin Castillo, Nash Nelson, Kalil Holly, Jomar Estrada and Cody Carter will have to continue to push piles and open holes for a running attack that averaged over 280 yards and four touchdowns per game.
The defensive line of Mario Kendricks (the only 2017 starter), Bryce Barrett, Boris Espinosa, Jake McKinney and Dylan Ruiz has also been giving teams fits this year.
“I think both of our fronts, the offensive and defensive lines, will need to play really well Friday,” he said.
Osceola clinched the No. 2 seed in the region with the win over Lake Brantley that had more intrigue than probably needed; the Kowboys romped to a 21-3 lead but watched the Patriots recover back-to-back onside kicks after scores and had to work for the win.
“We jumped to that lead and just got complacent on offense,” Nichols said. “Next thing we knew they got the onside kicks and made it close.”
Osceola ran for 179 yards, a season-low in victory, but had four runners get 30 yards. Scores came via the big play — a 75-yard run by Roshaun Dudley, a 28-yard connection from Davon Wells to Colton Weismore, and a 23-yard scoop-and-score fumble recovery by Danny Cooper.