PALM BAY – There are two things you can definitively expect when you attend a Heritage High School football game: an outstanding halftime show from the school’s band, and great effort from its football team.
Both of those were on full display on Friday night. The latter of those helped improbably keep Heritage close with Kissimmee Osceola, the No. 2 ranked team in Class 8A, despite being heavily outgained on the evening.
Ultimately, Heritage (3-1) didn’t win the game, falling to the Kowboys (5-0) by a 14-6 score, but they very likely learned a lot about themselves that was positive as they move forward this season.
“I thought the kids played as hard as they possibly could,” Ainsley said. “That’s a really solid team in Osceola.”
The Kowboys (5-0) reached the Class 8A title game in 2015 and looked every bit the part of a state title contender early on in the game. On their second play from scrimmage, Malcolm Davidson ran 27 yards to help put his team up 7-0.
In the second quarter, Davidson scored again, this time off a 52-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Braxton Jones that made it 14-0.
It looked like the Kowboys might break it open before the half, but a couple of penalties and some stingy Panther defense forced a field goal attempt. That attempt was blocked and returned 76 yards by Heritage’s Jason Miller to bring the Panthers to within a score at the half at 14-6.
That it was within a score at that point is incredible considering the Panthers were held to 6 total yards offensively in the first half, amassing just one first down via a running into the kicker penalty.
In the second half, Heritage bowed up again in the red zone, with the Panthers’ Isaiah Gamble recovering a fumble on an Osceola fourth down try.
Heritage’s defense did it again on Osceola’s ensuing possession, forcing a turnover on downs deep in its territory and a punt later in the fourth.
“I tell you what, we’ve got a bunch of kids that just flat out believe in each other, you know, they believe in our defensive staff and just flat out working hard,” said Ainsley of his team’s defense. “You look out there, it’s a bunch of young guys just running around but they believe in each other and when you get 11 guys believe that the next man’s going to do their job and I’m going to do my job, some good things happen.”
That’s when, about midway through the fourth quarter and for the only time all night, Heritage’s offense finally came to life when quarterback Willie Gaines remarkably found Nicholas Barber on a 39-yard pitch and catch on 3rd and long from the Panthers 2. From there, Heritage was able to methodically move it down the field thanks primarily to Gaines’ arm and penalties.
The drive concluded with over a minute left in the game when on a 4th and 13 play, Panthers receiver Brian Nieves took a double reverse and ran it just shy of the first down marker, which was inside the Kowboys’ 5-yard line.
“That’s been kind of our M.O. all year. So we’ve got four games, and all four of them have come down to a last drive,” Ainsley said.
Heritage was unable to stop Osceola from getting a first down after that, allowing the Cowboys to run out the clock and seal the victory.
Heritage travels to Okeechobee next week in a district matchup. Ainsley hopes that the experience from games such as this will help the team moving forward.
“When you’re playing someone that’s going to be consistently in the playoffs, you know they’re seeing that,” Ainsley added. “They’re seeing that kind of speed and what’s going on and it’s only going to make you better and I know we became a better ballclub tonight. Some of our kids had to grow up tonight and I’m just extremely proud of them, did a great job.”
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OSCEOLA 14, HERITAGE 6
Osceola – 7 7 0 0 – 14
Heritage – 0 6 0 0 – 6
HOW THEY SCORED
O- Malcolm Davidson 27 run (Luis Martinez kick); 8:11
O- Davidson 52 pass from Braxton Jones (Martinez kick); 11:14
H- Jason Miller 76 return of blocked field goal (kick failed); 0:59
Passing – Osceola: Braxton Jones 2-3-57 yards (TD); Heritage: Willie Gaines 5-14-88 yards-1 INT.
Rushing – Osceola: Jakobe Thomas 14-118 yards, Malcolm Davidson 11-78 (TD), Tayquan Pinellas 8-33, Braxton Jones 7-10, Dwayne McGee 2-9, Da’nas Pinellas 4-4. Heritage: Willie Gaines 15-12, Brian Nieves 1-12, Jayquan Martin 7-6, Amarion Gaines 3-6, Avery Oates 3-5.
Receiving – Osceola: Davidson 1-52 (TD), T. Pinellas 1-5. Heritage: Nicholas Barber 3-69, Nieves 1-15