SARASOTA — The Out-of-Door Academy football team has been on a mission to gain respect for its program since well before the season began.
After graduating four of its tops players, including quarterback Tony Gurry, seniors AJ Strong and Jamie Onufrak knew it was up to them and the rest of their senior teammates to finish what they started four years ago.
“We knew we had to come out and earn respect,” Strong said. “This is a respect tour.”
And now after watching the vast majority of the teams across Manatee and Sarasota County bid farewell to their seasons, the Thunder are within striking distance of reaching their ultimate goal — advancing to the state final.
On Nov. 27, ODA (10-1) bounced back from a one-point deficit in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 unanswered points on its way to a 32-18 victory over Evangelical Christian (9-3) in the Class 1B-Region 3 finals at Sarasota High School, capturing the school’s first state semifinal berth.
With the win, ODA advances to tomorrow night’s state semifinal where the Thunder will host Belle Glade Glades Day School. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Sarasota High School.
“(Last) Friday’s win was huge for the kids because they got to see something tangible from all of their hard work of the summer and the prior years come to light,” ODA coach Brett Timmons said.
The Thunder took an early 7-0 lead over the Sentinels, whom they beat 39-28 earlier this season, when sophomore quarterback Brian Ragone connected with older brother, Chris, for a 2-yard touchdown.
ODA extended its lead when sophomore defensive end Grant McCarthy recovered an Evangelical fumble and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. After taking a 14-6 advantage into the locker room, the Thunder added to their lead in the third quarter on a 25-yard field goal by junior kicker Jeff Young.
But the Sentinels, playing without quarterback Colton Lynch, who totaled more than 3,100 all-purpose yards and 42 touchdowns this season, weren’t ready to concede. Instead, Evangelical erased an 11-point deficit, scoring two third-quarter touchdowns and taking an 18-17 lead into the fourth quarter.
After a solid defensive stop to open the fourth quarter, Strong once again put the weight of the offense on his shoulders. Strong capped off ODA’s first possession of the fourth quarter with a 6-yard touchdown, which once again gave the Thunder the lead.
Strong added a 2-yard insurance touchdown late in the quarter to seal the victory for ODA. Strong finished with a little more than 160 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns.
“Not just AJ, but the entire senior class — they are a bunch of selfless people, who are willing to do whatever it takes to make the team succeed,” Timmons said.
The Thunder will face another tough test tomorrow night when they play host to Glades Day School. The Gators (10-2) are coming off a 45-44 overtime victory over defending state champion Jupiter Christian. The winner of tomorrow night’s contest will advance to the Class 1B state finals Dec. 11 in Orlando, where they will face the winner of tomorrow night’s other state semifinal between Hawthorne and Warner Christian.
“We have to play sound fundamental football and remember it is just a game,” Timmons said. “They are one of the top lower classification programs in the state of Florida. They have an outstanding freshman running back and a hard and aggressive defense. We have our work cut out for us.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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