Like a punch-drunk fighter on wobbly legs, the Osceola’s football offense stumbled and staggered through 42 minutes on Friday night before gaining their bearings and delivering a knockout punch in the final minutes to defeat Treasure Coast, 10-7.
The win at Markus Paul Stadium moved Osceola to 9-3 on the season and sent them into next week’s Suburban 4, Region 3 Final on the road at Vero Beach (11-1), a 27-6 winner over Melbourne on Friday.
Trailing 7-3 late in the fourth quarter, the knockout blow came courtesy of quarterback David Buggs, who fired an 11-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Taevion Swint on a fourth and two play from the 11-yard line with just 2:11 left in the game.
“Fortunately we had the right call against the right defense,” Osceola coach Eric Pinellas said. “They were leaving a safety over the middle but when we lined up in trips on the right hand side, they send him over to that side. Our receiver on the left hand side ran a hard slant to the middle and we snuck Taevion through the line and to the left. That left only a linebacker to cover him and we took advantage of the mismatch.”
It was the only lead of the night for the Kowboys, who only had six possessions in the entire game and just two in the second half. Treasure Coast controlled the tempo for most of the first half and when George Roberts connect on a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jameson Davis, the Titans took a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Osceola’s lone sustained drive in the half ended on a Delvin Calhoun field goal that cut the lead to 10-7 at the half.
Treasure Coast would then try to deliver its own knockout at the start of the second half.
Taking the opening kickoff, the Titans went on a massive, time-consuming drive that covered 20 plays and ate up all but 1:11 of the third period. But Osceola’s defense would stiffen and Manuel German-DeLeon would miss a 30-yard field goal to keep it a four-point game.
After the stop, Osceola drove all the way to the Titans 17, but on a fourth and two play from the 11 Swint was bottled up one yard short of a first down as the Kowboys turned the ball over on downs.
But this time, it was Osceola’s time to step up on defense. Three running plays netted just seven yards and a short punt set the Kowboys up on the Titans’ 48-yard line with just six minutes to go in the game.
Bugg got things going with a 13-yard completion to Bo Mascoe before a 24-yard completion to Ja’Keem Jackson moved the ball inside the 20. But three plays netted just eight yards and Osceola was faced with a fourth and two on the 11 to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
Treasure Coast would return the ensuing kickoff to the 30 with 2:06 left; but the Osceola defense was up to the challenge. All-state defensive tackle Derrick Leblanc would sniff out a double reverse run and make a tackle for a four-yard loss and then on a fourth and 14, LeBlanc would knock a pass down at the line to preserve the win.
For the game, Treasure Coast had a huge edge over Osceola both in time of possession and in rushing yards (130 to 35). “The type of game really didn’t surprise me,” Pinellas said. “They are massive on the offensive front and run that single wing offense really well. We only gave up one big play all night, but they kept getting those four, five and six yard gains and kept possession of the ball.”
Pinellas also praised the defensive effort of the Titans, who kept the potent Osceola running game in check all night. “They are also big up front on defense and made it tough on us to run the ball. We needed a spark throwing the ball and Buggs came into the game and gave us that.”
Buggs, who entered the game with 1:14 remaining in the first half after Ja’Keem Jackson gave Osceola the ball with an interception, almost gave the Kowboys a lead in the first half when he hit Elijah Jenkins on a deep seam route down the middle on his first pass attempt but the normally sure-handed Jenkins dropped the pass that would have gone for a touchdown.
Still Buggs hit 9 of 11 for 83 yards and the game winning touchdown in the second half. At the end of the night though, it was the defense that made the difference for the Kowboys. They forced two turnovers in the game and despite the Titans controlling possession they were limited to 165 yards of total offense.
“Just like they did in our opener, Treasure Coast likes to grind out first downs and then play defense. In the first game (a 14-5 Osceola win) they kept the ball for the entire first quarter,” Pinellas said. “They came in wanting their offensive and defensive lines to control the tempo and they did a good job of executing their game plan. But our defense is pretty good too and I thought our offensive line held up really well today. We knew it was going to be a dogfight and fortunately we made the plays we had to make in the second half.”
In Vero Beach, the Kowboys will be facing the #1 region seed. Osceola last met Vero in 2020 during the regular season, a 34-7 win for the Indians. “That game was two years ago and both teams are different now,” Pinellas added. “What we know is they are a really good team but we also know we have a chance to keep our season going.”