Lions secure conference championship in narrow Homecoming football game win

Nevada Cullen, Sports Editor


It wasn’t how they envisioned it happening, but the Nov. 2 Homecoming football game win brought Oviedo its first conference championship in four years. The Lions were able to overcome struggles in the second half with a dominant first-half performance to defeat Lake Howell 24-17.

Despite allowing the Silver Hawks to score twice early in the second half, the Lions’ defense held strong, only conceding a field goal after the two touchdowns. The defense was able to prevent any big plays on offense for Lake Howell, forcing turnovers and bringing pressure all game long.

First half

“They’re executing well,” said Oviedo head coach Matthew Dixon after the first half, in which the Lions’ defense did not allow a point. “They’re lined up properly, they’re communicating, making the proper checks, they’re in the right place and they’re physical when they get there.”

Offensively, Oviedo was firing on all cylinders in the first half. Junior running back Josh Bozzacco ran for a 20-yard touchdown on their first drive. Lake Howell blocked the extra point attempt and the score remained 6-0 in favor of Oviedo.

After a quick punt by Lake Howell, a 57-yard rush by junior running back Keonte Coffie put Oviedo within striking distance once again. The drive stalled, however, and the Lions went for it on fourth down. A penalty flag was thrown after an illegal hit on junior wide receiver Jalan Gilliland that resulted in an incompletion, but surprisingly, it did not result in a first down for Oviedo.

Both teams traded possessions to close out the first quarter. With 9:32 still to play in the second quarter, the Oviedo student section erupted when senior quarterback Morgan Mitchell miraculously evaded a sack and found Gilliland open, which resulted in a first and goal for the Lions.

Mitchell connected with sophomore wide receiver Matthew Rucker in the back corner of the endzone on fourth and goal, and the Lions took a 13-0 lead. Oviedo was able to score again on its next possession on a ridiculous run by Coffie, in which he broke several tackles en route to the end zone.

“It showed how much he wanted [it],” Dixon said. “That kid’s got grit, he’s got desire, he wants to get it done. He’s unstoppable.”

A two-point conversion by Oviedo made the score 21-0. Lake Howell had possession with less than two minutes left in the half. Senior wide receiver Trejan Amill caught a pass, but senior linebacker Anthony Windom forced a fumble that was recovered by senior safety Amontae Bachelder to give Oviedo the ball.

The Lions drove the ball down the field and ran out the field goal unit on to attempt a long field goal with time expiring. The clock, however, read zero, and the Lake Howell defense was already off of the field. In a confusing sequence of events, the Silver Hawks returned to the field, but then left again as the referees signaled that it was the end of the half. Dixon, as well as the other Oviedo coaches, were visibly frustrated with the officials. It was a sign of what was to come in the second half for Oviedo.

Second half

Lake Howell struck very early in the third quarter as junior wide receiver Kevin Byrd returned the opening kickoff to put the Silver Hawks on the board. Oviedo punted after their next drive, and another big return by Lake Howell gave them great field position.

Oviedo was able to force another turnover when junior linebacker Alex Kardamilas forced a fumble, which was recovered by junior linebacker Parker Smythe. The poor special teams play in the second half continued for the Lions when a bad punt had Lake Howell knocking on the door once again. Byrd was able to find the end zone again, rushing for a 15-yard touchdown to make the score 21-14 halfway through the third quarter.

Lake Howell recovered a surprise onside kick, which brought even more energy to the visiting side. Oviedo’s defense held firm, however, and the Lions regained possession. After several first downs, Bozzacco fumbled to give Lake Howell the ball back, and sustained a wrist injury in the process.

With Bozzacco and Coffie both sidelined with injuries [Coffie had been icing his knee], senior running back Chris Martinez carried the ball on the Lions’ next possession. His first down catches and runs helped set up a field goal by senior kicker T.J. Woodard to extend Oviedo’s lead to 24-14 with 9:35 left in the game.

“We always have to be ready for the next man up,” Martinez said. “We always have to perform to the best of our ability. Be ready for when your name’s called and try your hardest.”

Lake Howell converted a short field goal late in the game, but it was too little, too late. This time, the Lions recovered the onside kick attempt, and Mitchell took a knee to seal their victory.

Quarterfinals next

Tonight, Nov. 9, Oviedo will host Apopka in the 8A-Region 1 quarterfinals at 7:30. It will be the first playoff game hosted by Oviedo since 2014, in which Oviedo fell to Apopka. The Lions will look for revenge against a tough Blue Darters team.