Osceola in the playoffs
Faces didn't get long on the Osceola Football sideline this past week when the home team spotted the Southern Division-leading Lakeland Thunderbolts a 13-0 lead last week in the matchup of local rivals at the Silver Spurs Arena. Osceola simply turned to its defense.
Osceola allowed Lakeland only 13 more points in the final 50 minutes of the ball game and got big plays from receiver James Panui to pull out a 34-26 victory. Lakeland had the ball deep in Osceola territory with 30 seconds remaining when Connie Brown swatted away a Jason Johnson pass on fourth down to seal the victory.
"I felt like we had a step up on them the whole game," said Head Coach Marquette Smith. "Just a feeling about how the guys were playing and the big plays we got."
In the second half, aside from a missed tackle, Osceola played a flawless second half. Quarterback Ramon Robinson passed for 147 yards and three touchdowns. Panui caught eight passes for 100 yards, his third game in triple digits this year. Running back Doug Parker contributed in his first game with 65 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown.
"The whole game I thought we had them," said Robinson. "After the last bye week we've just been confident. We played like a team in the second half."
Lakeland held a 13-0 lead on a pair of Mario Robbins runs just 12 minutes into the game before Osceola Football found its gear - and mashed the gas hard. The home team got on the board thanks to an individual effort by receiver Darnelius Jones, who dove for a long pass, hauled it in and realizing he was untouched, tumbled into the endzone.
On Lakeland's next possession the Bolts drove to Osceola's goal line, but the defense made a tremendous goal-line stand, with Derric Coakley standing up Robbins two yards shy of the goal line. The defense got a stop on Lakeland's next possession, and the offense capitalized with Parker's TD and Osceola took its first lead at 14-13, but trailed 19-14 at halftime.
The lead was quickly regained on Osceola's first third-quarter possession. On second down, Panui broke off his pattern and went to the end zone. Robinson found him wide open for a 38-yard strike and a 21-19 lead. It was 24-19 after the defense pounced on a fumble and kicker Tony Bugeja hit a 19-yard field goal. Lakeland scored on its next play when Robbins broke two tackles and scored on a 16-yard TD catch, but it'd be the last time Lakeland led.
Osceola got a 31-yard Bugeja field goal on its next drive to make it 27-26 with 8:26 left in the fourth quarter. Then the defense was big (again!) stopping Lakeland on fourth down (again!), and the offense answered with points on Panui's second TD catch, a 20-yarder, to make it 34-26.
The Thunderbolts got the ball back with 3:01 left and drove to the Osceola 12-yard line before Brown batted a fourth-down pass away from Kenny Perry. Two Robinson kneel-downs and Osceola Football had its most meaningful victory of the season, and a playoff berth to boot.
There's only one problem with this big victory: Lakeland gets their shot at revenge in just two days. The two teams meet again at The Lakeland Center on Saturday at 7 p.m.
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