At the end of a season of ups and downs, The Out-of-Door Academy football team (6-5) ended things on a high note Nov. 10 — and took home some hardware.
The Thunder used its signature running game and a strong defensive effort to roll to a 33-14 win over Lighthouse Private Christian Academy (4-6) at home, capturing the Sunshine State Athletic Association Class 4A championship.
ODA found points on its opening possession. After LPCA attempted an onside kick, which ODA recovered, the Thunder marched down the field. The drive was capped with a 25-yard touchdown run by sophomore Allen Clark. The rest of the game followed suit: Clark would add two more touchdowns of one and 32 yards respectively, and senior running back/safety Jack Meyers would add a 13-yard touchdown run. ODA would go for two-point conversion after three of their four touchdowns, succeeding each time, and would add two points on an LPCA safety in the fourth quarter.
The defense did its part as well. Other than a 96-yard LPCA touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Braydon Jackson to junior receiver Henry Johnson, the Thunder held the Stingrays in check; LPCA's other touchdown came after ODA attempted an onside kick, shortening the field. Meyers and senior linebacker Chase Taraska each had an interception, while sophomore linebacker Heath DeRusso recovered an LPCA fumble.
"We have been saying all year, it's not how you start, it's how you finish," ODA Head Coach Rob Hollway said. "It says a lot about the character of this team that it never quit. I'm so proud of this team and happy for our community. I'm just so happy to be at ODA."
ODA finished the regular season 3-5 after injuries to Clark and other key pieces tested the team's depth. The injuries hit the offense particularly hard, and ODA was held to single-digit points in four of the eight games. Clark said it was difficult to watch from the sidelines as the team struggled. When he returned to action in time for the team's playoff run, everything changed.
After the title win, thinking back on the path to get there, Clark could only shake his head.
"This all feels amazing," Clark said. "The coaches told me that if I stuck to the game plan and ran hard, we'd win. And we did."
The title win comes in ODA's second year under Hollway. Prior to his arrival, ODA had gone winless in two consecutive regular seasons. Senior linebacker Charlie Tack, a team captain, was there for it all. Tack said going from those winless seasons to an SSAA Class 4A championship is a journey he's glad he took.
"A lot of people quit," Tack said, speaking of those winless seasons. "Some people stayed. I'm one of them. There were a lot of ups and downs, but I knew we'd get here eventually. It feels great."