When the St. Cloud Bulldogs come west on Friday to meet the Osceola Kowboys at Henry Ramsey Field, the Bulldogs will roll in with a 5-0 record and feel like they have their better shot to win the game than they have in a while.
That’s great for a longstanding rivalry that’s been lopsided the other way since President Bill Clinton took office.
“I love their confidence,” said OHS running backs coach Eric Pinellas, who has “lived” the rivalry, noting that the Bulldogs have the Kowboys’ full attention Friday.
Osceola, 4-1 on the year themselves, has been the dominant force in the series with St. Cloud — it doesn’t have a kitschy name (the Soldier City Classic) or a trophy (the Brass Bugle) like the St. Cloud-Harmony rivalry, which will be played for only the 14th time later this month, but many Osceola County lifers just call it “The Game”.
Osceola leads the all-time series with St. Cloud, the fifth-oldest in the state of Florida, 64-27-4, one that Pinellas has lived, played and coached in for three decades now. The Kowboys split the series 2-2 when he played from 1986-89, and he’s coached through the period of OHS dominance over the last two decades. Osceola has won 20 of the last 23 contests.
“Back in the day we were taught to dislike St. Cloud and everything about that team,” he said. “There was something to be said about ‘Crossing the ditch.’ Nobody transferred from one to the other, that was unheard of. So it’s still a rivalry to me.”
The meaning of the rivalry has to be taught to the current Kowboy era, since the oldest of them were in third grade the last time St. Cloud won (2010).
“The guys who’ve come up through the Kissimmee Mustangs (youth program) know about it,” Pinellas said. “For the rest of the kids, maybe they’ve here from somewhere or just know, we let them know this game means a lot to many people in the community.”
OHS Head Coach Doug Nichols has seen the game for 30 years as an assistant and the top Kowboy; from a time when the county only had a couple of high schools, to now, when you can almost fill up your schedule with Osceola County opponents.
“It’s always a great game for both communities. It’s always exciting on Friday morning for a rivalry game and we can’t wait to get to kickoff,” he said. “Our kids are pretty good about getting up for big games.”
Nichols has said in the past that, just a generation ago, nearly all the players who took part in the OHS-SC game had uncles, fathers and maybe even grandfathers who played in the game. But, with so many new residents to the area, St. Cloud is just another opponent to some players. Because of that, and how lopsided it’s been, it lost a bit of its luster of late. But, Nichols is adamant it’s still an important game.
“I think you definitely have to keep playing it. It won’t be me saying we won’t play the game anymore, and it won’t be (St. Cloud Coach) Bryan Smart saying it either,” he said. “Even when they were struggling a few years ago he said we have to keep playing Osceola.”
With the 100th installment of “The Game” right around the corner, here’s hoping the next few are as good of games as Friday could be.