By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
In one of the oldest and longest continuous rivalries in the state, Osceola and St. Cloud will meet on Monday night at Tom Gannarelli Field in the 99th edition of “The Game.” This contest, as well as several other in-county games, was moved to Monday due to Hurricane Ian.
The series dates back to 1925 and the two teams have played every year with the exception of 1944, when it was interrupted during World War II.
Prior to 2000, the Osceola-St. Cloud football game was a ‘can’t miss” local sporting event. “The Game” brought crowds of up to 10000 fans as the two biggest and formally only two high schools in the county would meet for its annual battle for local bragging rights.
A lot has changed since “The Game” was first played.
Until Gateway opened in 1986, Osceola and St. Cloud were the only two public high schools in the county and their rivalry produced many close and memorable games. Perhaps the biggest game-changer in the rivalry occurred in 2004 when Harmony opened, siphoning off large portion of St. Cloud students and subsequently its athletes.
Since then, the Kowboys have dominated the series and now lead it 67-27-4. St. Cloud’s last win in the series was a thrilling 41-35 win in 2010 – a victory they would later have to forfeit on a player eligibility issue. The last official victories for the Bulldogs came in in the early 2000s, when the Bulldogs won back-to-back games by nearly identical scores of 28-24 in 2005 and 27-24 in 2004. Since then, St. Cloud has had some up-and-down seasons; while Osceola has emerged as a state powerhouse – reaching the state championship game three times since 2007.
During the current 11-game on-field winning streak, Osceola has outscored St. Cloud 469-126. Every game has been decided by at least 20 points with the exception of 34-18 in 2016 and 42-27 in 2011. Still both sides say the game remains important to the schools and the community.
“The bottom line is our players know that their dads played in this game and their grandfathers have played in this game,” Osceola coach Eric Pinellas said. “And while we have gotten the best of them in recent years, don’t think for a minute that those kids don’t put a lot of emphasis on this game. There is a lot of pride in wanting to keep this streak alive.”
“A rivalry usually implies that the games are closely contested and that has not been the case lately,” St. Cloud coach Mike Short said. “Still it is one of the oldest rivalries in the state – if not the nation – and it does still mean a lot to the players, coaches and parents.”
St. Cloud’s young team will come into the game with a 3-2 record following last Thursday’s 38-16 Homecoming win over Winter Springs. Joseph Clukey scored on a 40-yard run and a 73-yard punt return as the Bulldogs overcame a 7-0 deficit.
Osceola is coming off its biggest win of the year, dominating previously undefeated Rockledge, 31-7. Taevion Swint rushed for 144 yards and David Buggs tossed three touchdown passes in the win, which came against the #1 ranked team in the state in Suburban Class 3.
The Kowboys defense did not allow a touchdown against an offense that came into the game averaging 41.2 points per game, as Derrick Leblanc led the way with four quarterback sacks. “We challenged our defense to get back to physical Osceola football and they responded,” Pinellas added.
In other games, Harmony (3-1) is tentatively scheduled to face a huge district-opening game against a talented Melbourne (3-2) team. “It will be dependent on whether they will let us on campus over the weekend and get a couple practice days in,” Harmony Coach Don Simon said.
The Longhorns dropped their first game of the season last week, losing a hard-fought 28-13 decision on the road to undefeated Eau Gallie (5-0). In that contest, Alex Tuyo booted a pair of field goals and Joshua Moss returned an interception for a touchdown but the Longhorn offense failed to score for a second straight game and came up empty in three trips to the red zone. Key Harmony defensive penalties – including a roughing the passer penalty on a third and 22 from the Eau Gallie 8 – and a fumble directly led to 21 of the Commodores 28 points.
“It was a winnable game and 75 percent of the contest we gave a winning effort,” Longhorns coach Don Simon said. “But when you play a team with that much talent, a 75 percent effort is not enough. Penalties, turnovers and some sloppy tackling on a few plays cost us the game. We’re going to be facing a very similar team this week in Melbourne so will can’t afford to make those mistakes again.”
Behind record-setting freshman quarterback Sabby Meassick, Tohopekaliga (4-0) will be heavy favorites when they travel to Celebration (0-5) to face the Storm on Monday. Meassick turned in another big performance in the Tigers’ 46-7 road win over Space Coast (1-3). He completed 33 of 50 passes for 433 yards and seven touchdowns. Tohopekaliga was led in receiving by Nick Rawls (13-184-1 TD) and Julian Nasco (10-118-2); while Churandy Duval rushed 15 times for 154 yards in the victory.
Through four games, Meassick has completed 74.5% of his passes – throwing for 1431 yards, 24 touchdowns and one interception.
In Celebration’s 40-16 loss to Winter Haven, Griffin Davis threw a pair of touchdown passes to Yariel Perez and Davin Gonzalez.
The Monday night schedule wraps up with Gateway (1-2), who will be looking to even its season record when they host in-county and district rival Liberty (0-5). The Panthers lost to Ocala West Port (26-0) last Friday; while the Chargers continued their rough season with a 44-6 setback to Deltona.
Poinciana will have a bye this week and sits with a winning record (3-2) at the season’s midway point for just the second time in school history following Friday’s 20-2 win over Tenoroc Senior quarterback De’kwan Bradley completed 11 of 22 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns – both to Perry Garrett, who had seven receptions for 92 yards.
The Eagles will need to win three of their final five to post the first winning season in the school’s 31-year history. Poinciana’s only non-losing season came in 1996 when the team last got off to a 3-2 start and finished at 5-5.
It will be a short week for six of the eight county teams, as all will be in action on the following Friday with the exception of Liberty and Celebration who have scheduled byes.
Week 6 Games (Monday, Oct. 3)
Osceola at St. Cloud
Liberty at Gateway
Melbourne at Harmony
Tohopekaliga at Celebration
Week 7 Games (Friday, Oct. 7)
Osceola at Sarasota Riverview
St. Cloud at Gateway
Hagerty at Harmony
Poinciana at Davenport
Wesley Chapel at Tohopekaliga
Liberty and Celebration (Byes)