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SEMINOLE — This is the time of year when the workhorse running back takes over, the guy with the strength, speed and indefatigability to lower his head and charge forward while gorging on yards.
The Osceola Warriors do not have that one guy who handles the vast majority of the carries.
They have nine who share the load.
Osceola (7-3) has taken the running back by committee concept to another level. There is a bevy of backs, each displaying the toughness and versatility to shine in a run-oriented attack that has helped them win six straight going into Friday’s Class 6A region quarterfinal game at Hillsborough.
The Warriors operate out of the Wing T, a maddeningly confusing and consistently effective offense that usually begins with running backs plowing through holes on traps, misdirections and sweeps. The ground game attacks the defense on all perimeters and sets up the play-action pass, which usually results in a big play.
But who needs balance when the depth chart at running back is as deep as Osceola’s.
“It’s a nice luxury to have that many guys that carry the ball,” coach George Palmer said. “Of course, we’d also like to have about 20 offensive linemen, but we’ll take what we have.”
The offensive linemen Osceola has are extremely mobile for their size, which allows them to pull and block effectively, skills particularly important in the way the Warriors prefer to run.
Osceola’s backs take advantage of the holes by using different skill sets.
“I’m more of the speed guy,” Daviel Clarke said.
“I’m deceptively powerful,” Quadarius Patterson said.
“I just like to put my head down and go up the middle,” Austin Lawrence said.
There is no particular order in the rotation, no set amount of carries for any back. One night Clarke could be the team’s leading rusher. Another game it could be Clarke. Or Jamil Morris. Or Courtney Burge.
“A lot of times the coaches go with whoever has the hot hand,” Clarke said. “It keeps everyone else hungry. We all want to do well when our name is called.”
It creates headaches for defenses with Clarke’s quick, slashing style contrasting with the rumbling forays of other backs such as Patterson and Andra Walls.
The coaches and players do not keep a close eye on statistics.
“I know I’m the leading rusher, but I don’t exactly how many yards, somewhere between 500 and 700 yards,” Clarke said. “But I definitely know I lead the team in touchdowns with 11.”
“That’s because you get all those 1-yard scores,” Lawrence said.
And on a team with so many options at running back, no one minds sharing the load.
“We actually prefer it,” Clarke said. “It keeps everybody fresh.”
By running the ball down the opposing team’s throats, the Warriors also have been able to move the chains and dominate time of possession. Two weeks ago, Osceola had 25 first downs against Bradenton Lakewood Ranch in a pivotal Class 6A, District 7 game that clinched the Warriors’ first playoff appearance since 2006.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had that many first downs in a game before,” Palmer said. “That means our guys were converting a lot of third-down conversions, which is big for us.
“We just need to keep doing what we do. And that is giving the ball to our backs so we can control the clock and keep the game in doubt going into the second half.”
Class 6A region quarterfinal
Osceola (7-3) at Hillsborough (8-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Scouting report: Terriers quarterback Dwayne Lawson has thrown for 1,140 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. But he also has thrown at least one interception in seven of Hillsborough’s nine games. Nigel Harris has a team-leading 643 yards rushing, but has not topped 100 yards in a game since Sept. 21.
Last playoff appearances: Osceola lost 48-23 to Plant in the first round in 2006; Hillsborough lost 23-0 to Armwood in the second round last year.