The Thunder rallied from down 28-7 to retake the lead, but lost 43-42 in overtime.
The Out-of-Door Academy's first football game of 2020 might double as the game of the year in all of East County.
But ODA found itself on the wrong end of the outcome.
The Thunder (0-1) lost 43-42 to The Canterbury School (4-0) in overtime on Friday night. The score alone makes the game sound close, and it was, but it could have easily been a blowout. The Thunder fell behind 28-7 in the first half, giving up multiple long touchdowns to Canterbury running back Barry White and wide receiver Dominic Camarca. Tackling was an issue. Coach K.B. Belton said the team's thin roster, consisting of just 26 players, means the team has to do less tackling in practice so the risk of injury is lessened. That, and having to knock off first-game rust, contributed to the Thunder's poor start, Belton said.
ODA didn't quit. An interception from senior safety Jacob Sanford gave the Thunder life before halftime, and the subsequent drive resulted in a Tyler Beasley touchdown pass to Connor Pope, making the score 28-14. It would remain that way until halftime.
The second half continued ODA's turnaround. Pope, who also plays defensive back, snagged an interception and returned it into the red zone, where Nolan Lewellen fought for a nine-yard touchdown run. The extra point would be blocked, but the Thunder was within eight point, 28-20. After Lewellen broke up a Canterbury pass with a hard hit on fourth down, ODA took over with a chance to tie the game — and took it. Beasley found senior wideout Michael Wyatt Carlton for another touchdown and junior running back Grady Paxton pounded in the two-point conversion. Once down 28-7, the Thunder had come all the way back.
They were not done. The Thunder would force Canterbury to punt, and after a long drive, Paxon punched in a run from the goal line with 1:22 remaining. After a Canterbury neutral zone penalty, ODA decided to go for two, and Beasley kept the ball himself for the conversion. The Thunder lead 36-28. But a short kickoff let Canterbury start its drive from its own 40 yard line, and Canterbury took advantage, scoring with 24.5 seconds remaining and getting the two-point conversion on a running back pass to tie the game at 36.
Even with little time remaining and the game tied, things were nearly settled before overtime — twice. Beasley hit Lewellen on a pass over the middle, which Lewellen took to the Canterbury 18-yard line before getting out of bounds with three seconds left. Beasley threw a jump ball into the end zone as the clock struck zero, but Camarca wrestled it away from ODA's receiver, then proceeded to weave in and out of potential tacklers for a would-be 100-yard pick six. But just before Camarca crossed the goal line, a Canterbury player was flagged for an illegal block on Beasley, who had hustled down the field after throwing the interception and tried to make a tackle.
The penalty wiped out the pick six, sending the game to overtime. Belton and Beasley's teammates all praised his effort during the overtime intermission.
Overtime works similar to college overtime rules. Teams start with the ball on the opponent's 10-yard line. Score or not, the other team then gets a chance to tie (or win) from the 10, and so on. ODA got the ball first Friday, and scored on a two-yard Paxton run. The Thunder elected to try a two-point conversion, but Paxton was stopped short. On the ensuing Canterbury possession, Canterbury fumbled on third down. ODA thought it had recovered to win the game, but the officials ruled that Canterbury kept possession. The next play, Camarca would nab a touchdown catch. An extra point then sealed the 43-42 win.
All that in Belton's first game as a head coach.
"You have no idea how proud I am of these guys," Belton said. He added that there was no special halftime speech that turned around the team's fortunes; the Thunder just started playing better. Even though the ending was painful, there are plenty of positives to take from it in Belton's eyes.
"It was a great game," Belton said. "We'll see them (Canterbury) again in the state championship game."
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