By: J. Daniel Pearson for Positively Osceola
When the dust clears on Friday night, either Osceola will continue its streak of playoff appearances or Tohopekaliga will earn its first post-season FHSAA Playoff bid in school history as the Kowboys will hit the road to face the Tigers at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, both Gateway and Osceola will start regional volleyball play this week. Here is a look around the county:
Osceola (2-6) at Tohopekaliga (5-3), Friday, 7 p.m.
This game is intriguing for several reasons, the biggest being what is at stake for the winning team. Although the Kowboys have lost an uncharacteristic six times this season, they are 2-0 in the district – having manhandled both Celebration and St. Cloud. After last week’s upset loss to Harmony, Tohopekaliga (5-3) is also 2-0 in Class 4S, District 10 with big wins over the same two district opponents.
With neither team currently having high enough ranking points to earn one of the four at-large spots in the post-season, the only path to the playoffs either team would be to win the district championship. Osceola has made it to the state playoffs 16 consecutive years, last missing out in 2007. Tohopekaliga, which opened in the fall of 2018, is looking for their trip to the playoffs.
By far, Osceola has played the more difficult schedule of the two. Their six losses have come to Treasure Coast, Seminole, Jones, Lakeland, Daytona Beach Mainland and Rockledge. Of those teams, four are currently ranked in the top five of their state classifications and only Jones (ranked 15th in Class 3M) is in real danger of not making the playoffs.
Tohopekaliga has had a solid second season under coach Anthony Paradiso and record-setting sophomore quarterback Sabby Meassick. Tohopekaliga’s biggest wins this season have come against Foundation Academy and cross-town rival St. Cloud, so a win against Osceola would not only be the biggest of the season but the biggest in school history.
While Meassick has been sensational in his young career, more physical opponents – particularly in his freshman season – forced him into some errors. How well the Tohopekaliga offensive line can protect him from an aggressive Kowboys defense could play a huge role in the outcome of the game.
Osceola’s offense has had trouble scoring points this year, as uncharacteristic turnovers and special team mistakes have hampered them. If the Kowboys can maintain possession with their running game and if its defensive front four can exert pressure on 6 Meassick, the odds of Osceola pushing the playoff streak to 17 will improve greatly.
Last week, Osceola dropped a 22-0 decision against Daytona Beach Mainland (8-0, ranked #1 6A, #2 Overall) in game where its defense played fairly well but where its offense simply could not sustain any drives against the stout Mainland defense.
Meanwhile, Harmony made big play after big play on defense and provided just enough offense in the Longhorns 23-14 upset of Tohopekaliga (read game here: https://www.positivelyosceola.com/harmony-longhorns-outplay-tohopekaliga-tigers-at-the-ranch-in-thrilling-23-14-home-win/)
St. Cloud at Celebration, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
After a 49-3 loss to Osceola in the 100th edition of The Game, St. Cloud coach Mike Short regrouped with his 2-3 team and told them that they still have “a lot to play for this season,” including “running the table and finishing 7-3 and earning a possible bowl bid.” Since that time, the Bulldogs (5-3, 0-2) have won three straight and will be looking for a fourth when they travel to Celebration (1-7, 0-2) for a 7 p.m. district game.
Last Friday, the Bulldogs won their third in a row with a 7-0 win over Groveland’s South Lake High in what Short described as a “defensive slugfest”. The game featured just 366 yards combined of total offense, with St. Cloud gaining just 210 yards and South Lake being held to 156 total yards. The game’s lone score came on a 2-yard touchdown run by Owen Conner.
“The key to the game was that our defense played absolute lights out,” Short said. “Landon Millman had the best game of his career at linebacker and because of injuries and other circumstances, we had to play a lot of guys out of position including WR Alex Springs — who had to go both ways. He was in for 122 snaps and did a phenomenal job.”
Celebration comes into the contest on a four-game losing streak in which Jeremy Palmer’s young squad has had trouble moving the ball on offense. The Storm has been shutout in their last three games – including a 39-0 loss to Flagler Palm Coast last week. In that game, Celebration hung tough through a scoreless first quarter before the flood gates came open and Flagler posted 37 second quarter points. The entire second half was played under a running clock.
Davenport at Gateway, Friday, 7 p.m.
Gateway will be in search of their first win of the season when the Panthers (0-8, 0-4) host Davenport (4-4, 2-2) in the final district game for both clubs. Last week, an injury-depleted Panthers team gave a game-effort in a 27-8 loss to Lake Region.
The Panthers fell behind 14-0 but scored a touchdown and converted a two point conversion to cut the lead to 14-8. They then came up with a defensive stop and had a chance to take the lead, but could not put together a drive.
Harmony at Heritage, Friday, 7 p.m.
After last week’s exhilarating win over Tohopekaliga, the Harmony Longhorns (2-6) will face an extremely tough challenge with a road game at Heritage. Led by a pair of outstanding linebackers in senior Deavin MacDonald (47 tackles, 12 TFL, 3 QS) and sophomore Rahmir Davis (44 tackles, 11 TFL, 6 QS), Heritage is 7-1 on the season and is allowing just over seven points a game. They have recorded four shutouts this season with their only loss coming to 6-2 Oviedo (42-35) squad.
“It’s going to be a real challenge for us,” Harmony coach Nick Lippert said. “They are solid on both sides of the ball and always seem to get a lot of really good players transferring in to their program. We’ll get a good week of work in and do our best.”
Lake Region at Liberty, Friday, 7 p.m.
Liberty (2-6, 0-4) will play its final home game of the year against district opponent Lake Region (3-5, 1-3) on Friday night. Although the Chargers cannot finish with a winning season record-wise, it has definitely been a winning season for first-years Chargers coach Dee Hart.
Taking over a team that went 0-10 and was outscored 453-12, the Chargers have won two games this season and are averaging more than 10 points a game. More importantly, in just his first year, Hart has restored some pride and discipline into the program as he continues to rebuild.
Liberty is coming off a really tough two game stretch where they played district powers Auburndale (7-1) and Lake Wales (8-0), losing 62-0 and 50-0.
Poinciana at Mulberry, Friday, 7 p.m.
After winning a school record eight games last season (only the second non-losing season in school history), Poinciana had high hopes of another big year, only see numerous injuries and a couple of close losses send their season off-kilter. Still, the Eagles will have a chance at a .500 season, thanks to a big 37-14 win over Lake Buena Vista last week that sent their record to 3-5.
Poinciana, who had starting quarterback Cam Brown back in the lineup after being injured for the last three weeks, accounted for four touchdowns with three passing and one running score in the LBV win. Junior Ernest Nunn caught five of those passes for 111 yards and two scores as he became Poinciana’s all-time receiving leader.
“Probably the best all-around game of the season,” Coach Randy Beeken said. “Our defense has played really well the last month but we simply could not get anything going on offense. Injuries had something to do with that and it was great getting Cam back, but we certainly had our opportunities in previous weeks and simply could not get it done on offense.”
This week’s opponent is Mulberry (6-2). “They will definitely be a handful for us,” Beeken added.
Regional action gets underway with quarterfinal games on Wednesday and both Osceola (21-6) and Gateway (17-6) hosting games based on winning district championships last week.
Osceola, currently ranked 8th in the state in Class 7A and defending Region 3 champions, will host Tohopekaliga (20-6) at 7 p.m. The Kowboys earned the right the host by capturing the 7A, District 6 championship with a straight-set 25-20, 25-20, 25-21 road win over 12th ranked Lake Nona. (read about big win here: https://www.positivelyosceola.com/osceola-lady-kowboys-down-lake-nona-in-straights-sets-to-win-girls-volleyball-district-championship/).
Although they were knocked out of the district tournament in the second round by Lake Nona, Tohopekaliga earned one of four available at-large regional berths based on their body of work in the regular season.
The Lady Kowboys enter the regional tournament on a roll, having won 11 of their last 12 matches with their only loss being a four-set road decision to Winter Park – the #1 team in 7A and the #2 ranked team in the entire state. “After playing so many highly ranked teams on the road this year, I think we are battle tested and ready for the challenges of the state tournament,” Osceola coach Carrie Palmi said. “As long as win, we should get at least one more at home and that is a big advantage.” A win over Tohopekaliga would keep the Kowboys at home on Saturday against the winner of the Olympia (21-6) vs. Windermere (16-6) match.
Heidi Lizardi’s Gateway squad also breezed through district play, not dropping a set in Class 5A, District 6. The Lady Panthers disposed of Auburndale and Lake Region before taking a 25-18, 25-11, 25-17 win over Lake Wales. They will face Satellite Beach (17-9), the region’s #4 seed at home at 7 p.m. Currently ranked fifth in their region, Gateway would play the winner of #8 Bayside and #1 seed Merritt Island on Saturday.