Dan PearsonBy:  J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

A district championship will be on the line Friday night when the upstart Tohopekaliga Tigers (5-3, 2-1) travel to Osceola to face the Kowboys (5-3, 2-0).  At stake is the Suburban 4, District 10 title and the automatic bid in the FHSAA regional playoffs that start Nov. 11.

Tohopekaliga features a prolific offense that has been averaging close to 40 points a game behind the exploits of record setting freshman quarterback Sabby Meassick and the play of wide receivers Nick Rawls and Julian Nasco.  

Still, the Tigers will be significant underdogs to perennial powerhouse Osceola, which appears to be hitting their stride after an uncharacteristic 2-3 start.  In their last five games, Osceola has defeated two highly-ranked teams in the state; including Rockledge (#2, Suburban 3) and Daytona Beach-Mainland (#1, Suburban 3).  They are also undefeated in their last three games, having out-scored their opponents 131-9.

The Kowboys record is a bit misleading, as two of their losses came on the road to state powers Jones and Lakeland; and their third loss coming in overtime to state-ranked Seminole; where a missed extra point in the final seconds cost them a win.  Those three losses have come to teams with a combined 20-3 record and all three are currently ranked in the top 20 of all Florida high school teams, including Lakeland which 6th overall and #1 in Suburban 4.

Despite a 21-20 upset loss to Celebration on Monday night (the Tigers second game in four days), first-year head coach Anthony Paradiso and his staff deserve credit for turning around the Tigers football fortunes less than a year.  The Tigers have assured themselves of at least a .500 after last year’s 2-8 record, where they were outscored 412-62 and were shutout six times.

In other games, Harmony (5-3) has a huge game this week – hosting district opponent Heritage (3-5).  The Longhorns are coming off a roller-coaster week, being eliminated from the district championship race with a heart-wrenching 9-7 loss to Melbourne last Tuesday and coming back on just two days rest to blast Tohopekaliga on the road by a score on 40-7.

“I would be hard-pressed to think of a time when I have been more proud of a team,” Harmony coach Don Simon said.  “It would have been easy for them to hang their heads and go through the motions after the Melbourne loss.  Instead they came out and fought their guts out to dominate a talented offense.”

Harmony hopes to use that momentum to win its last two games and hopefully snag one of four at-large playoff berths available in Suburban 4, Region 3.  “We’ve played a tough schedule and hopefully if we can get to seven wins, it will be enough to get us in,” Simon said.

Although the game has no playoff implications, Poinciana (5-2) finds itself chasing school history.  

In 31 years since opening, the Eagles have had just one winning season, going 6-4 in the 2000 regular season and finishing 6-5 after a playoff loss.  With three regular season games and a possible bowl game left, the Eagles have a chance for their first winning season in 23 years and could set a new school record for wins in a season.

Randy Beeken’s team put themselves in that position with a 49-47 overtime road win over Lake Buena Vista last Friday.  The Eagles led in that game 27-14 at halftime and was ahead 41-14 late in the third quarter when LBV scored and then successfully executed three on-sides kicks and tied the game late in the fourth quarter, 41-41.  Lake Buena Vista had a chance to win in regulation, but Perry Garrett blocked the extra point to send it to overtime.  The Eagles scored first in extra time and made the two-point conversion to go up 49-41.  On the ensuing possession, LBV scored on fourth down but cornerback Dav’rell Cohn tackled the LBV running back one-yard short of the goal line to preserve the win.   

“It was one intense, crazy game.  I really thought going in, we should have won this game easily but Joe (LBV coach Joe Rienzi) did a fantastic job scheming us.  Only four officials showed up for the game and that made it difficult for them to cover the whole field and a lot of calls were missed.  That said, we simply could not get it together on special teams and allowed them back into the game.  Still we got our fifth win and now have put ourselves in position to set some school history.”

Coming off a bye week, St. Cloud (5-3) will look for its sixth win of the season when they host Celebration (1-7). Sophomore quarterback Logan King has put together a nice season with 17 touchdown passes and 1665 passing yards in his first full season as a starter; while the Storm should be riding high after their upset of Tohopekaliga.

Gateway (2-5) will look for its third win of the season when they travel to Davenport (1-6) in a match-up of struggling teams.   The Panthers will start their sixth different quarterback this year in Jeremiah Scott, as the team has dealt with injuries, defections and suspensions of five different starters this season.   Coach Marlin Roberts said his team beat itself in the 28-6 loss to Lake Wales last week.  “We took the opening kickoff and marked down to the red zone only to throw a pick six on the next play.  We failed to score two other times from inside the 10.  If we execute, we certainly would be in the game.” 

Liberty (0-8 overall, 0-4 district), did not get a head coach in place until after fall practices started and continue to struggle as they have been out-scored 358-6 this season.  They travel to Lake Region for a district game this weekend before finishing up their season at home next weekend against Poinciana in the annual “Battle of the Boulevards” game.