By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
Lakeland’s undefeated and nationally ranked Dreadnaughts (13-0) scored two second half touchdowns and rallied to defeat Osceola, 14-7, on Friday night and earn a spot in the Suburban 4 State Championship game.
“Not much to say right now,” Osceola head coach Eric Pinellas said. “We played one of the toughest schedules in the state this year for the sole purpose of preparing for tonight’s game and we failed to execute on three or four plays and it cost us the game. The bottom line is our kids played their guts out tonight and we ended up not executing on a few plays that ultimately cost us a chance to win this game and play for a state title.”
Osceola, who finishes 10-4 on the season, ends up losing to Lakeland for the second time this season. In a non-district game in September, the Kowboys turned the ball over four times and lost a 25-22 heartbreaker.
It was more of the same Friday night, as Osceola gave up the ball three times via interception and once by fumble as Lakeland rallied from a 7-0 deficit to beat the Kowboys for the sixth time in nine playoff games.
“If you would have told me that we would hold a team that was averaging 40 points a game to 14 before tonight’s contest, I would have gladly taken that scenario,” Pinellas said. “We had our chances tonight and failed to put the ball in the end zone.”
The Kowboys would dominate possession in the first half, limiting the high-scoring Lakeland team to just 48 first half yards. But despite a 14-yard touchdown pass from David Buggs to Bo Mascoe early in the second quarter, Osceola could only manage a 7-0 halftime lead.
Osceola’s narrow halftime lead was due equal parts to their own offensive frustration and Lakeland’s defense. After recovering a fumble on the game’s opening kickoff, Osceola would give the ball back one play later as Buggs was intercepted near the goal line.
A subsequent Osceola drive would be thwarted by a chop block and back-to-back false start penalties.
Still, the Kowboys had their chances to possibly put the game away in the second half. Receiving the ball first, Osceola drove to inside the Lakeland 30 and was threatening to take a two-score lead when Cormani McClain intercepted Buggs on a second and one play from the Lakeland 21.
“Just an ill-advised throw from David,” Pinellas said. “His first read was covered and unfortunately he threw across his body on the run trying to make something happen. It was second and one and throwing the ball away would have been the play for him to make and it certainly turned the momentum of the game around.”
From there, Lakeland would go on its only sustained drive of the entire game.
Mixing runs and a few passes, Zach Pleuss led the Dreadnaughts on a long, 16-play, 88-yard drive that ended in a 11-yard touchdown pass from Pleuss to J’honelle Valazquez.
A quick three-and-out set Lakeland up in business on its own 39 and on the first play of the drive Tyler Williams took a snap out of wild cat formation and raced 61 yards untouched for a 14-7 lead. “They hadn’t shown that formation all year,” Pinellas said. “I won’t know for sure until we look at the game film, but I suspect we lined up wrong and they took advantage of it.”
With half a quarter left, Osceola took possession at the 39 following a short return and a facemask penalty. Behind the passing of Buggs and some hard-nosed running from sophomore Taevion Swint, the Kowboys drove inside the Lakeland 10. But on a fourth and four from the eight, Osceola fumbled on a double reverse and Lakeland recovered the ball on the 20 with under four minutes remaining.
“It was our version of the Philadelphia Special,” Pinellas explained. “TJ Massey was going to take the second pitch, stop and throw the ball back to Buggs who slipped down the right sideline and was all alone in the end zone. It’s a play we were saving all season. We practiced and executed it every week since the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, TJ could not get a handle on the pitch and the fumble resulted.”
Osceola’s defense would give the offense one more chance at redemption. Forcing a punt on a three-and-out, the Kowboys offense took over at midfield with less than two minutes to go. But on a third and three on the 45, Harrison would pick off his second pass of the night and Lakeland would take a knee twice to end the game.
Turnovers would prove to be the downfall of the Kowboys both in this game and during the regular season. In the two Lakeland losses and the Jones loss, the Kowboys ended up turning the ball over 15 times.
The loss also marked the last game for 16 Osceola seniors – including Division-1 signees John Walker (DL), Derrick LeBlanc (DL), Bo Mascoe (WR/DB), and Ja’Keem Jackson (WR/DB).