The Out-of-Door Academy football team found its offense Friday night.
It was lost during the Thunder's three-game losing streak to end the regular season. ODA was held to seven points or less twice during that stretch. Injuries to key skill position players like sophomore running back Allen Clark hindered the unit's explosiveness and allowed defenses to key on the team's integral skill players who remained healthy.
Clark returned for ODA's (4-5) Sunshine State Athletic Association Class 4A quarterfinal game Friday against All Saints' Academy (6-3), which the Thunder hosted. His return, plus some timely defensive takeaways, allowed ODA to prevail with a 42-28 win over the Saints.
The Thunder got off to a fast start, receiving the ball first and marching down the field with a drive capped by a seven-yard touchdown run from senior Jack Meyers, who started the game at quarterback — a position he did not play in any traditional sense, as ODA did not attempt a single pass against the Saints. Meyers instead used the position to either run the ball himself or hand off to Clark, who had a three-yard touchdown of his own on the team's next possession.
The Thunder made it 21-0 early in the second quarter on another rushing touchdown — this time not by Meyers or Clark, but by junior guard Marvin Palominos, who is listed on MaxPreps as being 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds. Palominos took a snap from the one-yard line and pounded the ball into the end zone.
"I've been asking for it for a long time," Palominos said. "We practiced it yesterday for the first time. It was the first touchdown I've ever scored. It was such a nice feeling. I definitely felt the pressure (before the snap). All I wanted to do was score, and I did."
From there, the two offenses went back and forth, but ODA never trailed, and its defense forced the Saints into costly mistakes. Junior defensive lineman Thomas Perez recovered two Saints fumbles, while senior defensive end Robert Crisci recovered one in the Saints end zone for a touchdown. Meyers, who also plays defensive back, and senior safety Jack Taraska also added interceptions.
Saints sophomore receiver Claudarius Bell was responsible for all four of the team's touchdowns.
The game was a personal one for ODA Head Coach Rob Hollway, who was the head coach of the Saints from 2014 to 2017. Hollway called All Saints' Academy "a special place" and gave credit to the team for fighting hard — though he was even prouder of his Thunder players for prevailing through the challenges of recent weeks to get a playoff victory.
ODA will play St. Edward's High (4-5) in the SSAA Class 4A semifinals at 7 p.m. Nov. 3 on the road. After the win over All Saints', Hollway's mind was already on the Pirates.
"I think we're still looking to put all three phases of the game together," Hollway said. "But a win is a win. Obviously we were not very balanced today. I think, to beat a good team like St. Edward's, we're going to have to be more balanced. They are well-coached and disciplined. We have to kick touchbacks and play good defense and move the ball."