By: J. Daniel Pearson
After graduating two-year starter Chad Mascoe, one of the big questions for the Osceola Kowboys heading into spring practice would be how his replacement — Gunner Holland– would handle the duties as starting quarterback.
If the rising junior and two-time state wrestling champion’s performance in Thursday night’s spring game was any indication, the answer may very well be “just fine.”
Making his first high school start, Holland completed seven of 13 passes and three touchdowns to lead the Kowboys to a 26-22 win over Edgewater. The Eagles are one of the outstanding teams in the state, having won 42 games in the last five seasons and making it to the 7A regional semifinal last year.
Holland was particularly impressive in the two-minute drill. Trailing 22-19, Holland led the Kowboys on a 14-play, 83-yard drive capped off with a 22-yard scoring pass to Isaiah Jean-Baptiste with 43 seconds remaining. He converted two four down plays in the drive. His other touchdown passes included two second quarter touchdown passes of 29 yards to Tyjuan Massey and 66 yards to Jean-Baptiste.
“I thought he was really composed for a first start,” Head Coach Eric Pinellas said. “We already knew he was a gamer and a tough competitor but he really stepped up with the game on the line.”
Both teams played their second team and junior varsity players for the entire first quarter, with Osceola taking a 7-0 lead on the second play of the game as Bryce Reed busted off an 81-yard touchdown run.
The Kowboys would extend the lead to 13-0 on the Massey touchdown before Kaden Shields-Dutton cut the lead to 13-7 on a 48-yard run. The Kowboys needed just three plays to push the lead 19-7 as Jean-Baptiste caught a short slant, made two players miss and scampered down the left sideline for a touchdown.
Osceola’s offense would go cold for most of the second half and Shields-Dutton would tack on two more touchdowns as Edgewater took a 22-19 lead. With Edgewater star running back CJ Baxter only playing one series with a hamstring issue, Shields-Dutton was running for 93 yards and three scores on just nine carries.
Although the Kowboys allowed an uncharacteristic 6.3 yards per rush against Edgewater, Pinellas said he was not overly concerned. “First they are a great team with a ton of talent at a lot of different positions. We were without Derrick (all-state performer Derrick Leblanc) and we have a bunch of young linebackers playing that over-ran some plays and missed some assignments. We made a lot of mistakes that can definitely be corrected.”
The Kowboys also had some issues in special teams, as poor snaps led to two blocked extra points and several shanked punts. “Two new long snappers, a new punter, and a new kicker,” Pinellas said. “Again it is something that we will correct with practice and reps during camp.”
Overall, Pinellas said he was pleased with the 19 spring practices and exhibition game. “When you play a great team like Edgewater, it gives you a great idea at what you are pretty good at and where you need improvement,” the second year coach said. “Overall, I thought we had an outstanding spring. We worked hard, practiced with great enthusiasm and got better every day.”
The Kowboys, who went 9-3 last season, will open fall camp in August and play a non-counting Kickoff Classic at traditional state power Apopka on Aug. 19 before opening the regular season at home against Treasure Coast on Aug. 26. Treasure Coast went 10-2 last season in Class 8A and advanced to the regional semifinals.