SEMINOLE — Just as Osceola’s Kai Eberhart lined up to deliver Friday night’s Week 4 opening kickoff, the Seminole skies opened up.
And over the next two hours the deluge never relented, mixing with distant lightning and turning the field into a treacherous 100-yard puddle.
One would think that such sloppy field conditions would be disastrous to St. Petersburg, especially with its read-option attack triggered by an athletic, productive quarterback in Jefferey Jones.
But the conditions allowed the shifty sophomore to explore some of his other skills, ones that allowed the Green Devils to continue a stellar start with a 9-0 victory over the previously undefeated Warriors.
“We knew we couldn’t pass the ball in the rain, so the only thing we did was play hard-nosed football, pound it and pound it, and play like a team,” Jones said.
Behind a relentless offensive line (tackles Ricky Seeley and Randy Jackson, guards Jeremiah Furse and Ethan Badillo, and center Michael Weaver), Jones patiently waited out his blocks then subtly juked his way to positive yardage on 23 of his 27 carries. Gaining steam as conditions worsened, the sophomore finished with 162 ground yards.
“I see how the defense reacts when I go to hand the ball off, how they shift to try and stop the running back, and I knew I had a lane to go over and take the ball,” Jones said. “I didn’t score a touchdown but we came out with a win because we played as a team.”
Junior running back Jack Rothman (36 yards on 18 carries) was the only one to find the end zone, taking advantage of a second-quarter Osceola fumble forced by Scott Morena and recovered by Patrick Walker at the Warriors’ 28-yard line. Three plays later, Rothman took a draw play up the gut 23 yards to the house.
The Green Devils’ other points also came off of a turnover as a muffed punt set the visitors up for a Jordan Browy 32-yard field goal midway through the first quarter.
From there, St. Petersburg (2-1) controlled the game three ways: through a ball-hogging offense that kept possession for 29 of the 48 minutes, through an oppressive field-position advantage (Osceola only ran five plays in plus territory) and with a defensive effort that didn’t even yield a Warrior first down until there were four minutes left.
Senior Novian Smarwt (five tackles, two for lost yardage) was his usual staunch presence in the middle of the Devils D, joining with lineman Airion Bradley to shackle standout Osceola running back Nathan Carter to just 46 yards and the Warriors as a team to 39 total yards.
“Novian’s come a long way and we’re super proud of him,” St. Petersburg coach Denis Gillen said. “We’re a better team with him and he’ll have some college opportunities if he keeps playing his game.”
Even with the loss, Osceola (3-1) is off to its best start in at least the last 19 seasons.
The Green Devils have suffered as well but are also hoping to have turned the corner.
“In Pinellas County, we have a transferring issue going on and we’ve had two tough years,” Gillen said. “Schools have been going after Jeff and Novian and a lot of others, and they’re sticking with us after going 1-7 and 1-9 (the past two years). That’s a special feeling for us.
“What an honor. Our kids have stuck together and stuck with the staff through the hard times, and now it’s time to collect the check.”