SARASOTA — It was pegged early on as arguably the easiest hurdle to clear on their district schedule.
After all, the Thunder were a perfect 3-0 in the district, while visiting Moore Haven had yet to win a district game. But The Out-of-Door Academy football team learned a valuable lesson last Friday night: Sometimes the weakest opponent on paper can provide the most challenges.
Clinging to a six-point lead, ODA needed a defensive stop to preserve its perfect district season, as the Terriers had a fourth-and-two at the Thunder 12-yard line with 48 seconds left.
ODA linebackers Jake Siciliano and Ryan Kaminski were able to contain Moore Haven running back Fred Hall to preserve a narrow 27-21 victory. With the win, ODA clinched its first-ever district championship.
In just their fourth year playing varsity football, the Thunder captured their first district title with one game remaining in Class 1B-District 6, improving their record to 6-1 and a perfect 4-0 in the district.
“Winning our first district title is a great accomplishment for our young program,” ODA coach Brett Timmons said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work from individuals from the beginning to get us to the point we are now. However, (even though) we have accomplished this milestone, we still need to press on and keep elevating our level of play.”
ODA took an early 7-0 lead on its opening possession when sophomore quarterback Brian Ragone connected with senior tight end Jamie Onufrak for a 20-yard touchdown. Ragone added a 15-yard rushing touchdown later in the first quarter to further extend ODA’s lead.
Moore Haven cut the Thunder’s lead in half on a 6-yard keeper by quarterback Keonte White.
Senior running back A.J. Strong added a pair of touchdown runs in the second half, including a 76-yard run to open the third quarter, giving ODA a 21-7 lead, and a 33-yard run with 5:07 remaining in the game.
The Terriers assumed possession at the ODA 44 yard line and marched down to the 12 yard line before ODA’s critical fourth down defensive stand.
Despite the win, Timmons said he was disappointed in his players’ inability to rise to the occasion.
“We came out emotionally flat,” he said. “Moore Haven is a very athletic team. However, we made mistakes that … we haven’t made all season long.
“We have to learn that we cannot look ahead, and we must finish our schedule before we can concentrate on the playoffs,” he said.
ODA will close out its district season tomorrow afternoon at Saint Stephen’s in the third installment of the Headmaster’s Cup. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].