ODA Head Coach Rob Hollway pulled his starters in the second half, and the two head coaches agreed to end the game with 7:18 left in the fourth quarter.
The one-sided quality of the game makes it challenging to project much about ODA's 2023 potential. But ODA will always take being on the winning side of a blowout.
Against Berean Christian, the blowout started with the Thunder defense, which wreaked havoc from the jump, forcing two turnovers — senior linebacker Charlie Tack returned an interception for a touchdown and senior linebacker Chase Taraska recovered a fumble — and blocking a punt to go with two sacks and three tackles for loss. The Thunder defense never let Berean Christian cross midfield.
The type of performance was exactly what Tack and his teammates wanted.
"This feels great," Tack said. "Week one, I think this is what everyone dreams. It sets the tone for the rest of the season. But at the same time, we're not going to take anyone lightly."
ODA spent the 2022 season perfecting its rushing attack as the Thunder ran for 2,960 yards as a team. That was eight yards per carry, and 44 rushing touchdowns.
But the Thunder defense was just as dominant, allowing 14.1 points per game.
"We play hard-nosed football here, and I think our defense sets the tone," Tack said.
One area where the Thunder wants to see improvement is the passing offense. ODA's offense amassed just 462 passing yards and four touchdowns in 2022. Hollway said the team aims to have a more balanced attack in 2023.
Hollway said ODA has a more capable passer in junior quarterback Jackson Roth, who transferred to the school from Ontario, Canada.
During fall practice, Roth said he was still adjusting to both the skill of players in Florida and the differences in American football versus Canadian football — like teams having 11 players on the field instead of 12, and having four downs to get a conversion instead of three.
In his first American football start, the 6-foot-1 Roth showed why Hollway believes in him. He hit senior Jack Meyers for a 22-yard touchdown and added a rushing touchdown.
He also threw two interceptions, but Hollway expressed optimism about his quarterback's future, even calling him a potential NCAA Division I prospect because of his smarts and arm strength.
"I'm sure he's upset about the interceptions, but that's what makes him great," Hollway said. "He's going to continue to improve. He wants to throw the ball a lot and he's going to get the opportunity to do that."
While Hollway expects the passing attack to get into sync, the rushing attack picked up in 2023 where the 2022 season left off. Thanks to the Thunder's stout offensive line — senior Blake Neumann, senior Blaine Bentley, junior Chase Polivchak, junior Marvin Palominos and sophomore Max Polivchak — ODA ran for 148 yards on 13 carries (11.4 yards per carry) against Berean Christian, led by sophomore Allen Clark's 80 yards and two touchdowns.
Starting with the team's Sept. 1 game against Oasis High (1-0) on the road, the Thunder will likely need all aspects of its offense to be firing. ODA beat Oasis 51-29 in 2022. Oasis beat Gateway Charter 38-0 in its opener.
The following week will be a rivalry game against Saint Stephen's Episcopal (1-0) at ODA. The two teams split two matchups in 2022, with the Falcons prevailing 21-0 in the postseason.
"We have a lot of work left to do, but we're excited to get into Sunshine State Athletic Association play," Hollway said. "We have a winning culture now. These guys are tough."
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.