Forget the trickery, the cuteness, the finesse. Osceola's offensive philosophy is to run the ball and shove people around. • It worked last season as the Warriors used a slew of running backs to pile up yards and make the playoffs as a district runnerup. • The only thing that changed this year is the personnel. • Osceola lost a number of those backs through graduation or transfers. The offensive line is essentially a new unit with only a handful of players back with any varsity experience. • The one constant has been two holdovers in the ground game, Jamil Morris and Quadarius Patterson — husky, sturdy-legged running backs who whack it to defenders in tandem. • One blocks, the other carries the ball. Then the roles are reversed. Coach George Palmer is more than comfortable watching the four-footed machine eat up yards in 4- and 5-yard chunks.
Tonight, the Warriors (6-3, 2-1) will need their beefy backs to lower their shoulders and appear on the other side of the line, dragging Venice defenders — one, two, three at a time — across the chewed-up earth if they are to clinch the runnerup spot in Class 6A, District 7 and make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1993-94.
"Quadarius and Jamil are a load, and the offensive line has really come together and played well for us," Palmer said. "Our backs have to get between the tackles for us to have stay in this one beyond the first half and have an opportunity to win."
Patterson (220 pounds) and Morris (240) possess a startling combination of sprinter-like speed and lineman-like strength. They each weigh nearly as much as the linemen who block for them and thrive in an offense that allows them to dispense blows with regularity.
"I love what we do on offense," Morris said. "I don't want to spread it out like other teams do. I love power football."
Morris has received the bulk of the work, rushing for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns. Patterson has been effective, too, with 615 yards and five touchdowns.
"Jamil and I work well together," Patterson said. "We've known each other since youth league. It's hard for a defense because you set up to stop one of us, but then the other has a big gain."
Conventional wisdom suggests that a team relying almost exclusively on the run has a difficult time rallying to win. But Osceola has come from behind to beat Seminole, Palm Harbor University and Dixie Hollins.
The Warriors also have kept every game close with the exception a rout against district champion Largo. Osceola's other losses to Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs were by a combined six points.
The ability to stay in games late has a lot to do with the Warriors' power running game, which wears teams down.
"A lot of defenders don't like tackling us the whole game," Morris said. "After a while, you can see guys moving to the side to try and make a tackle or trying to go lower as the game goes on. No one wants to take us head on."
Venice has a strong running game of its own with Terry Polk ranked ninth in the state in rushing yards (1,351) to go along with 13 touchdowns.
Still, the Warriors believe they can rush to another victory.
"The game will be tough, but we're confident," Morris said. "It's the last game for the seniors on this field. We've got an opportunity to get into the playoffs, and we're trying to do everything we can to make it happen."
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.