By Rick Pedone
During a tumultuous week that saw the White House change hands and three of the four top-ranked college football teams lose, Osceola’s first-round regional playoff loss to Treasure Coast was as stunning as any of them.
The presidential election was a little more significant, but, you know, presidents come and go. We swap them out every four or eight years. And the college top four didn’t change that much regardless of what happened on Saturday.
But, the Kowboys, out in the first round? Against an unranked opponent? At home?
I was trying to think, even as the teams were lining up for their postgame handshakes, what OHS loss from the past compared to this one. The kind of loss where your eyes can hardly believe what they are seeing.
The only comparison I can come up with over the past 30 years was the 1999 north state semifinal between Osceola and Springfield Rutherford.
The Kowboys, defending state champs and ranked No. 1 in the state, were steaming toward a state championship showdown against Lakeland. But, they got derailed by a gritty Rutherford team that also beat OHS in the 1997 semifinals.
In 1999, Osceola was a veteran unit and had Parade All-American Willie Green in the offensive backfield plus do-everything Florida State commit Chad Mascoe.
But, on that chilly autumn night in Panama City, the Kowboys did just enough wrong to lose the game and the state championship trophy that they could all but feel in their hands.
It was a one-point loss, 21-20. The margin of defeat? A missed PAT. Sound familiar?
Last week’s loss to Treasure Coast may not have been at that magnitude since it was a first-round regional game instead of coming four weeks into the playoffs, but it sure felt like the same kind of belly blow.
Osceola Coach Doug Nichols, the offensive coordinator under Jim Scible in 1999, agreed that perhaps that is the best comparison to last week’s loss that he can remember.
“Yeah, I guess it could be,” Nichols said.
Both the 1999 team and the 2016 Kowboys were unbeaten and coming off state championship game appearances.
The big difference between the teams is experience. The 1999 Kowboys were senior-led and had an air of invincibility, even though they were nearly upset the week prior by Daytona Beach Mainland.
The 2016 Kowboys, on the other hand, was largely a team in transition.
Their unbeaten regular-season record masked the fact that only about a half-dozen seniors started.
It’s possible that underclassman jitters played a role in the Kowboys’ loss last week.
Osceola made a series of mental errors completely out of character for a team that has spent the past four years embedded deep in the playoff bracket.
Twice, OHS muffed punts. They mishandled kickoffs, once letting the ball bounce out of bounds on their 4-yard line.
And their kickoff coverage – well, let’s just say that if Nichols and his staff don’t look at that tape for a month or two, who can blame them?
Plus, there were the disabling physical errors – four turnovers – that kept the Kowboys from building any momentum.
Did OHS overlook Treasure Coast? Only the players know. But, when you are 16- or 17-years-old, and your team is undefeated, and you remember that you beat your first-round opponent by 33 points last year, well, who wouldn’t be very confident about a victory?
Take nothing away from Treasure Coast, because that was a well-disciplined team that came in with a good plan. But, you have to chalk this one up as a game OHS lost more than Treasure Coast won.
That, of course, doesn’t make any difference today.
The Titans earned their regional semifinal date at district-rival Vero Beach on Friday, and OHS has to face the fact that it simply wasn’t good enough last week to advance.
The lessons learned last week will sear into the Kowboys’ psyche over the next nine months
At Osceola’s level, success is measured by district championships and playoff victories.
But, remember, this team was 10-0 and won epic victories against Winter Haven at home and at Ridge Community, where OHS had to erase a two-touchdown deficit, to beat a very good Bolts team.
There will be significant changes to the football playoff format next year because the Florida High School Athletic Association is switching to a points-based qualifying system, except for district champions, who automatically will qualify.
The OHS schedule will be different, too, and probably tougher.
But, as long as Nichols and his staff are back on the sidelines, I think that you can count on the Kowboys playing past Thanksgiving next season.