The Osceola Kowboys beat the Panthers 20-19.
DR. PHILLIPS The Panthers were rolling on home turf Nov. 27 at Bill Spoone Stadium. After they had allowed two touchdowns on the Osceola Kowboys' first two drives, the defense was stalwart while the offense mounted a comeback. With 19 straight points, Dr. Phillips took a five-point lead into the fourth quarter of the FHSAA Class 8A Region 2 Championship.
Five minutes deep in that quarter, the Panthers faced third and 8 from their 13, prepared to punt if the play had failed.
Instead, some confusion on a rollout led to an underthrown pass Trey Shine snatched from the sky and then returned 16 yards for an Osceola touchdown.
"We had a guy open; he just underthrew it," head coach Rodney Wells said of that game-winning pick-six. "They caught it and made it a big play."
The Kowboys failed to convert on the next play, but their 20-19 lead proved enough to end Dr. Phillips' season.
The Panthers could not overcome a third-and-27 situation on their next drive, but they forced a punt with 1:53 left.
The trouble was it had been a coffin-corner kick out of bounds at the 6-yard-line.
Still, Marvin Washington passed for 15 yards to Alvin Bryant to begin that final drive. Jaquarius Bargnare gained a first down two plays later to reach the Dr. Phillips 42.
But then Washington took a sack for a negligible loss before three straight incompletions meant a turnover on downs. With zero timeouts for each team, the Kowboys kneeled to seal their regional championship and advance to the state semifinal against the West Orange Warriors.
"They came out ready to play; we came out and made a few mistakes -- costly mistakes," Wells said. "They scored 14 points on their first two possessions. On the defense they didn't score again."
As Wells had predicted, Osceola pounded Dr. Phillips with its rushing attack all game, throwing few enough passes to count on one hand. First, the Kowboys ground out 65-yard drive on the first possession of the game, taking 5:13 to do it. On their next possession, Malcolm Davidson bolted through the defense on third down for almost 80 yards and a touchdown.
The Panther sideline and crowd were silent, until Bargnare sparked a rally with an acrobatic leaping reception in the end zone for 32 yards in the final minute of the first half.
"That was a smart play, big play," Wells said. "We needed some life; we needed some energy. When we put up seven, we knew we (would) be there."
And with a deficit of 14-7 to start the second half, Dr. Phillips did get there via Bryant's 50-yard dash to make it two touchdowns apiece. But the Panthers missed the extra point.
The defense bent but ultimately broke the Kowboy offense's subsequent drive with a fumble recovery at the Dr. Phillips 24. Within seconds, Emare Hogan had brushed off a tackle and sprinted for a touchdown of about 77 yards for a 19-14 Panthers lead. Dr. Phillips decided to go for two points but again failed to score after a touchdown, which at least mathematically was all of the difference.
On the bright side, flags were not an issue for the Panthers in this game as they had been in some contests this year, but a crucial third-down play and turnovers made the difference as they often do in playoffs, Wells said.
"If you have a great effort, a great attitude, do things in class, that's what our program's about," Wells said among his final thoughts on the season. "We'll continue to work hard, and good things will always happen to people who do things the right way."
Bryant, a senior, also offered advice after his final game.
"Take advantage of every opportunity," he implored his younger teammates, "because it can be gone in the blink of an eye."
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].