By:  J. Daniel Pearson

THE GAME:  St. Cloud (2-2) at Osceola (0-5), Friday, Sept. 29, 7 p.m.

“To tell you the truth, it’s hard to consider it a rivalry when one team is dominating every year.  The Harmony game may be more of a rivalry for us, but this is still The Game.”

Those words were uttered a few years ago by then St. Cloud head coach Bryan Smart when he was asked about the upcoming game between his Bulldogs and Osceola Kowboys.  And while Smart was just being candid, he quickly followed that statement up with the point that the contest still has significant meaning to both sides and is a game that he hopes is still being played into the next century.  “We have parents that played in this game and their parents played in this game and some of the parents’ parents played in this game.  It’s hugely important to the community,” Smart said.

St. Cloud (2-2) will meet Osceola (0-5) for the 100th time on Friday night.  It is the fifth oldest football rivalry in Florida and one of the top 25 longest running rivalries in the nation.  Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Markus Paul Stadium.  

Osceola Athletics Director Rick Tribit has encouraged an early arrival for fans wishing to attend the game.  “We’re expecting a big crowd and on top of that we are going to have several ceremonies and presentations prior to the 100th playing of The Game,” Tribit said.  “It’s going to be a special night.”

The game will be important one for Osceola, who is 0-5 for the first time in 18 years.  The Kowboys dropped a 19-16 decision to Rockledge in a game they led 9-0 at one point.  In what has been sort of a theme this year, Osceola gave up a defensive touchdown on a fumble return and also gave up a special teams score on a kickoff return.  

“Injuries have hurt us a lot this year but so has mental lapses on defense and special teams.  If we are able to eliminate those mistakes and if we get some key guys back from injury, I still believe this can be a pretty good football team.”

On a positive note, Osceola got running back Taevion Swint back for the first time this season and the junior running back responded with a 140-yard night rushing.  The Kowboys also got a defensive touchdown from LB/S Jalen Bell on a pick-six.  “I really hope college recruiters are paying attention to his potential,” Pinellas said about Bell.  “They keep wavering because they are not sure whether he is a linebacker, corner or safety.  But the fact is he is a D-1 talent period.”

Although winless, Osceola can still make the playoffs if it wins its district (4S, District 11) and Friday’s game will be the first test in the district.  The Kowboys would also have to beat Celebration and Tohopekaliga.   “There’s no question we have a lot to play for,” Pinellas said.  “Obviously this game has a lot of historical significance and bragging rights are on the line, but we still want to make the playoffs and this is the first of three must-win games.”  The Kowboys are currently riding a streak of 16 consecutive playoff appearances and will most likely have to win its district to keep that streak alive.”

Pinellas added that despite his team’s winning streak against the Bulldogs, the contest still carries weight with the players.  “It’s a matter of pride and bragging rights.  Our players; grandfathers, dads and uncles played in this game and you can bet they reminded on a constant basis from those relatives that this is a must-win game,” Pinellas said.  “Because we have a streak going, you know our kids don’t want to be a part of a team that lost to St. Cloud for the first time in a long time.”

St. Cloud comes into the game on a high note after thrashing Winter Springs, 49-7.  With the score tied 7-7, the Bulldogs scored 42 unanswered points to win going away.  Logan King completed 10 of 15 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns – with all three scoring passes going to junior wide receiver standout Alex Springs (8-129).  Led by TJ Griffin (6-65) and Jonathan Morales (9-85), St. Cloud rushed for 200 yards in the game.

“We were able to accomplish everything we wanted to,” St. Cloud coach Mike Short said.  “It was a good win for us and hopefully we can ride that momentum into this week.”

Short added that despite entering the game as underdogs, he viewed it a great opportunity for his team.  “The one great thing about football is you just never know what’s going to happen.  If a few breaks fall your way, you create a couple of turnovers, or have a fluke play go your way, you can change the outcome of a game.  They have dominated recently and have had the better of it in the entire series, but I know our kids will be excited to play in this game and give it their best shot.”

Osceola has won 12 games in a row in the series since the Bulldogs’ last on-field win in (41-35) in 2010.  That game was later forfeited to Osceola because player eligibility issues so the official Osceola win streak is 17.  The Kowboys lead the all-time series 68-27-4.  

Celebration (1-4) at Tohopekaliga (3-1), Friday, Sept. 29, 7 p.m.

Tohopekaliga has every reason to come out with some intensity in this game.  First, this is a district game and the Tigers (1-0) will need a win to set up a possible showdown with Osceola next month for the title and the automatic bid to the post-season.  Tohopekaliga will also be out to avenge last year’s almost inexplicable 22-21 loss to the Storm, in game where committed numerous turnovers and mistakes in what was the probably the biggest upset in Osceola County last year.

Tohopekaliga is also miffed about their 31-24 overtime loss to Melbourne last Friday, where they were had more than a few official calls go against them.  Head coach Anthony Paradiso, who had strong words for the officials following the game, did not back down during the weekend.  “I can take a loss all day, but I will never not fight for what is right for our kids.  They did not deserve what was done to them in that game, especially in the final minute.”

In that loss, Tigers running back Churandy Duval, had a big night – rushing for 175 yards.  Although the passing attack struggled a little, sophomore Sabby Meassick threw for a touchdown and ran for another and now has 1547 passing yards and 20 touchdowns through four games.

A young Celebration fell to Liberty on Thursday night.   Trailing for the entire game, the Storm tried to make a game of it when they recorded a safety and blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown in the waning minutes of the game to close the gap to 20-17.  The rally ended when the ensuing on-sides kick went out of bounds before the Storm could recover.

“We’re playing a lot of freshman and sophomores on varsity that normally would be on junior varsity,” Storm coach Jeremy Palmer said.  “When your team is that young and inexperienced, they are going to make some mistakes.”

Poinciana (2-2) at Foundation Academy (2-2), Friday, Sept. 29, 7 p.m.

Two very similar teams will meet on Friday, as the Eagles search for their third win of the season by traveling to Foundation Academy.  “Foundation is a very sound team,” Poinciana coach Randy Beeken said.  “We’ve had a common opponent (Teneroc), this year with very similar results.  Playing on the road again, we are going to have to make sure we play fundamentally sound defense and not allow any big chunk plays.”

Brothers CJ and James Bronough are the two big play makers for Foundation.  James, a senior running back, has accounted for 500 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns this season; while CJ, a sophomore wide receiver, has caught 12 balls for 121 yards and four touchdowns.  

Poinciana is coming off a big week, where they won not one but two games.  

In a make-up game on Monday, they defeated previously undefeated Horizon, 28-27.   Akeem Knox ran for 132 yards and caught three touchdown passes in the game.  It was the highest ranked opponent that Poinciana has ever defeated.

On Friday, the Eagles had a 51-0 walkover win over Tenneroc.  “Offense, defense, special teams, we were able to do anything we wanted to,” Beeken said. “We got two touchdowns on punt returns and also scored on defense.”  Elijah Bowser and Ernest Nunn scored two touchdowns each in the game, Knox added one.

Gateway (0-4) at Liberty (1-4), Friday, Sept. 29, 7 p.m.  

The Chargers will be looking to build on last week’s win at Celebration; while the Panthers will be seeking their first win of the year.

First-year Liberty coach Dee Hart brought the Chargers their first win in 22 months as Liberty built a 20-7 lead and then held on for the win.   “Absolutely feels great and it’s something these kids needed and deserved,” Hart said after the win.  “Despite losing four lop-sided games to start the season, this team never gave up in any of those games and continued to work their tails off to get better.  The next step was to learn what it feels like to win a game and tonight we got that feeling.  I am just so proud of these guys right now.”

Senior quarterback Jeremiah Pierre-Louis threw for one touchdown and ran for two more in the win.   

Meanwhile, road-warriors Gateway went to Ocala West Port and lost 48-0.  

Harmony (1-3) at Melbourne (1-4), Friday, Sept, 7. 7 p.m.

The Longhorns (1-3) open district play on Friday with a road contest at Melbourne.   Harmony is coming off a wild 57-33 to Wildgrass Ranch; while Melbourne took Tohopekaliga down in overtime last week, 31-24. Both teams are a run-first, pass-second offense, and the result may be dictated on which team’s defense plays best.

As for this week’s game, Harmony Coach Nick Lippert noted that Melbourne would present a solid challenge.  “They are really big and physical on the offensive line and they are well-coached and disciplined.  They like to pound the ball on the ground, so it is going to be imperative that we play solid defense.”

Heading into last week’s game with Wiregrass, Lippert said he was worried about containing opposing quarterback Luke Knight, a US Military Academy commit.  It was a well-founded worry. The senior quarterback hit 27 of 37 passes for 418 yards and eight touchdowns in the win.  “He was every bit good as advertised,” Lippert said.  “We actually got some pretty good pressure on him but he would buy time by scrambling away and he kept his eyes down field the whole time.”

On a positive note, the Longhorns scored a season-high 33 points. They were led by Jeremy Hilliard’s three rushing touchdowns.  Lippert also had some praise for his quarterback Kal Amen and wide receiver Ivan Ramos.  “Jeremy was the man all night for us on offense, but Kal played a solid game and he was helped by some sensational catches by Ivan Ramos.”