By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
Osceola’s opponent this week in the Class 4 Suburban, Region 3 semifinals managed to win only three games in the regular season, they did not win their district, and they already lost a game to the Kowboys this year.
Given those facts, one would believe Osceola (8-3) received a pretty easy road to the regional finals and should be loaded with confidence when they face Treasure Coast (4-6) Friday night at Markus Paul Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
You may think that, but don’t tell that to Osceola Coach Eric Pinellas and his players.
“They may have only won three games during the regular season but they have played one of the toughest non-district schedules in the state, so there is a reason they got an at-large bid and there’s a reason why they will have our full attention,” Pinellas said of the Titans, whose 2022 schedule included non-district games against state powers Seminole (8-2), Chaminade-Madonna (9-0), Tampa Jesuit (7-4) and St. Thomas Aquinas (10-0)—in addition to Osceola. In district, they finished second and took #1 seed and district foe Vero Beach to overtime, before losing 10-7.
“It’s not like we won easily the first time we played them,” Pinellas added. “They run a similar single wing offense that DeLand did last week, they have a solid defense and they are battle tested. We absolutely have to be ready for a battle.”
Treasure Coast reached the semifinals with a convincing 35-7 win over Martin County; while Osceola advanced with a thrilling 30-28 win over DeLand (read game story here: https://www.positivelyosceola.com/osceola-gets-defensive-in-second-half-escapes-with-30-28-win-treasure-coast-up-next/ ).
Although they run a similar offense, there are some fundamental differences between Treasure Coast and DeLand. The Titans are not as offensively diverse as DeLand was, as their quarterback George Roberts (228 passing yards) is not as effective throwing the ball as Bulldog quarterback Tyron Moore was. Still, they possess a formidable running game, as Roberts (754 rushing yards) and running backs Emote Brown (536 yards) and Jamison Davis (343 yards) are all capable.
Osceola will hope to get All-State defensive tackle and Oklahoma commit Derrick LeBlanc (elbow injury) back this week and that could go a long way to shoring up a defense that allowed 265 yards of total offense in the first half against DeLand a week earlier.
“We had some stupid penalties, we were not very aggressive up front and we simply did not set the edge last week,” Pinellas said. “We definitely need to clean that up this week. Treasure Coast likes to take their running game outside, so setting the edge and keeping them from doing so will be a huge key for us this week.”
Defensively, Treasure Coast is solid. Linebacker Rod Taylor (4.0 QS) and defensive tackle Jahari Grant (6.0 QS) lead a tough defense that has recorded 18 quarterback sacks and 23 tackles-for-loss this season.
Osceola will try to counter that defense with its “big play” offense, by Taevion Swint. Averaging almost eight yards a carry, Swint has rushed for 1329 yards and scored 19 touchdowns this season and has 1941 rushing yards, 2870 all-purpose yards, and has scored 37 total touchdowns in just 23 career games as he continues his assault on the Osceola High School record books.
“He’s an amazing player,” Pinellas says about Swint. “He has just one speed and that’s all-out and he gives you that 100% effort on every down and every play. For a smaller back, he is extremely strong and breaks a lot of tackles.”
Pinellas added that the starting quarterback for Osceola will be determined this week during practice.
David Buggs took the majority of the snaps this season, but junior Gunner Holland came in and had a big game in the West Orange win. He took every snap in the DeLand game. “We wanted to reward Gunner because he played so well against West Orange. I am not sure who will start this week, we will make decision during practice this week,” Pinellas said. “We have a lot of faith in both guys, so one, the other, or both may play this week. The advantage to that is we’ll let our opponent worry about who they should prepare for.”
Should Osceola advance they will face the winner of the Vero Beach (10-1) vs. Melbourne (9-2) game in the Class 4S, Region 3 final. If Vero Beach wins, they will host the game as the region’s top seed, if Melbourne wins the game would be played at Markus Paul Stadium.
LONGHORNS SEE SEASON END WITH TOUGHT LOSS
TO VERO BEACH
With several close losses, as well as impressive wins over Palm Bay, Viera, Tohopekaliga and St. Cloud, Harmony (6-4) was able to secure the final spot in the regional tournament as an at-large team. Despite an incredible effort against top-seeded Vero Beach, the Longhorns saw its season end with a 24-14 road loss on Saturday.
Behind a Jeremy Hillard 2-yard touchdown run, Harmony used its running game to dominate first-half possession and battled to a 7-7 tie at intermission. “Obviously they are an outstanding team, but we came into the game with a good game plan and executed it,” Harmony coach Don Simon said. “We wanted to limit their opportunities, keep the game close and have a chance to win it at the end and we accomplished those things. Unfortunately – at the end of the day — they made a few more plays than we did.”
Trailing 10-7, Harmony had a chance to tie the score early in the fourth quarter, but Alex Tuyo had a field goal attempt blocked and a subsequent 59-yard touchdown run by Quincy Rodgers a few plays later made it 17-7.
The Longhorns would fight back when they recovered a muffed punt and Cooper Richards scored on a 17-yard touchdown run to make it a 17-14 game. But needing a stop to get a chance at victory, the Longhorns saw Vero quarterback EJ White hit Vendrevious Jacobs on touchdown pass in the final two minutes to put the game away.
“I was really proud how this team fought tonight and all season long,” Simon said. “We had a couple of slipups in a few games but it’s a long season and those games definitely did not define this team. I’m going to miss this group.”
Simon will say goodbye to all-time leading rusher Tyler Emans, Richards and three-year starting quarterback Ayden Parks. Emans turned down several Division-1 rides to attend Ivy League school Brown University. “Tyler and Cooper have been such a great 1-2 punch for us, and while we didn’t throw the ball much, Ayden was exactly what we needed for a quarterback because he fit what we were trying to do and he knew our offense so well. That’s a lot of talent and production we are going to have to replace,” Simon added.
BOWL GAMES CANCELLED
Poinciana, St. Cloud and Tohopekaliga were scheduled to celebrate winning seasons with Bowl Games last week; but Hurricane Nicole had different ideas. First the storm forced cancellation of the St. Cloud (6-4) at Poinciana (8-2) game that was scheduled for Wednesday night and then Lake Howell informed Tohopekaliga (6-4) that wet fields and a lack of sufficient practice time forced the cancellation of Saturday game at Lake Howell. As of Monday morning, Poinciana – who set a school record with eight wins but was not eligible for the playoffs because of their independent status – was holding out hope that a replacement Bowl Game could still be scheduled for this week.