By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
The high school football regular season begins tonight, albeit with a few changes to address COVID-19 protocols, and here are eight games to watch in 2021.
St. Cloud at Osceola (Monday, September 27)
One of the oldest rivalries in the state of Florida and the nation, these two schools will meet for the 98th time in Week 1 of the regular season. For history alone, this makes this one of the must-see games of 2021. But this rivalry has lost some luster as Osceola has totally dominated the series of late and leads 66-27-4 overall. “To be honest, it has not been much of a rivalry of late,” Head Coach Bryan Smart said last year. “You have to be competitive to be a rivalry.” St. Cloud last won on the field in 2010, 41-35, a game that would later be forfeited. Still the historical significance of this game should not be ignored. The teams have met every year since 1925, except when World War II forced the cancellation of the 1942 game. There have been some memorable games in this series too. Back in 1999, Osceola (9-0) hosted St. Cloud (8-0) and more than 7000 fans came to see a Kowboys win.
Viera at Harmony (Oct. 1)
Playing a ton of sophomores last season, Harmony rallied from a 0-4 start to win four of their final five. Still a young team, the Longhorns have put themselves in a position to possibly battle for a district championship this season. Viera was a solid 7-4 playoff team last year and this game could go a long way in determining the Class 7A, District 7 crown.
Celebration at Tohopekaliga (Oct. 8)
This game is a non-district matchup of two teams under first-year coaches. Both Rich Pringle of Celebration and Jeff Higgins of Tohopekaliga are first-year coaches looking to put a stamp on their respective programs. Since its founding in 2003, Celebration football program has struggled mightily with a few exceptions. Tohopekaliga has had two winning seasons in its first three years of existence but is also on its third head coach in four years.
Gateway at St. Cloud (Oct. 8)
Across town from Tohopekaliga, an interesting game will take place between St. Cloud and Gateway. Bulldog head coach Bryan Smart and Panther Head Coach Marlin Roberts have served at their two schools longer than any other current coaches in Osceola County and they are close friends. The two schools traded victories in the series for more than half a decade until the Bulldogs won the last two. Smart and Roberts have each won three times in the last six games.
Dr. Phillips at Osceola (Oct. 15)
Long considered Central Florida football powers, Osceola and Dr. Phillips have met numerous times in the post-season, most recently in the Class 8A Regional Semifinals in 2019, where the Kowboys came away with a 20-7 win. But this year’s regular-season matchup has added significance because both teams found themselves in the same district this year (Class 8A, District 9), with the winner getting a leg up in the race for the district title.
Osceola at West Orange (Oct. 22)
A tough two-week stretch for the Kowboys concludes when Osceola travels to West Orange to meet the upstart Warriors. Under head coach Michael Granato, West Orange had a turnaround season last year, losing a tough 38-21 regular-season finale to Jones high school before recording a pair of shutouts in the playoffs – beating Ocoee (38-0) and Spruce Creek (26-0) before falling to Apopka in the regional finals (18-9). The new district with Osceola, Dr. Phillips, and West Orange is considered the toughest in the state with three teams that finished in the top 10 last year in the 8A power rankings.
Harmony at St. Cloud (Oct. 29)
Without question, the Soldier City Classic has replaced Osceola vs. St. Cloud as the most intense rivalry in the county. When Harmony opened in 2004, more than half of its first group of students were siphoned off from St. Cloud High School, creating a natural rivalry. And it has been a good one. When Patrick Forsythe scored on a 60-yard run in the fourth quarter to cement a 21-17 win for the Bulldogs, it evened the all-time series at eight games each. “The Osceola game has the history, but Harmony is our biggest rival,” Bulldogs head coach Bryan Smart said. “The proximity of the schools, the fact these kids continue to play in the same youth sports league before high school, and the fact that it has been a close and great rivalry has made this the one regular-season game where the regular-season records do not matter. It is the big game on our schedules.”
Liberty at Poinciana (Nov. 11)
These two schools conclude their regular season with the annual Battle of the Boulevard. This rivalry has been lopsided in Liberty’s favor as the Chargers have won all 14 games in the series. Other than an 18-16 win in the inaugural game, the Chargers have also been dominating winning every other game by double digits. Liberty has outscored Poinciana in the series by a 620-186 margin. But regardless of the lopsided nature of the series, this game is the biggest game of the season for both schools. Similar to the Harmony-St. Cloud situation, most of the students in Liberty’s first-class came from Poinciana. That factor, along with the close proximity of the two schools, makes this a game to watch.
By J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
J. Daniel Pearson, a long-time resident of Osceola County, has joined Positively Osceola as a freelance contributor. His JD’s Monday Morning Musings column will be a regular feature and he will be covering events for us throughout the year. Dan is a former Public Relations Specialist for Florida State University, Boardwalk and Baseball, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, the Orlando Predators, and other professional sports teams and has been a freelance reporter to many newspapers in the state.