SARASOTA -- The last time the Cardinal Mooney and Out-of-Door Academy football teams tangled at ODA, a rivalry was born.
On Friday, the Thunder will look to earn their first victory over visiting Cardinal Mooney in a series that started in 2009.
The Cougars won the first meeting by more than 20 points, but the last two contests have come right down to the wire.
A blocked punt that was taken in for a touchdown in the waning moments of the 2010 game began the rivalry between the two Sarasota County private schools.
The play provided a victory for Mooney and spoiled the inaugural game at ODA's on-campus football stadium.
"They had two heartbreaking losses the last two years," Cardinal Mooney head coach Josh Smithers said. "I'm sure that's extra motivation for them to feel like they've gotten so close. But for us ... I think we treat it just like we treat any local school that we play, whether it be Lemon Bay or Bradenton Christian or Out-of-Door Academy. Whenever you play a local school, you want to perform well and you want to win. Obviously, there's bragging rights. Our kids are friends with all the ODA kids. And so for them, I think it's more of a personal level. You get the guys you might see on the weekends or grew up going to school with, you've got a chance to deliver a win and come out and say, 'Yeah, we won.'"
Those first two meetings were held in Septem
ber, while last year and this season's clashes were moved to the end of each program's schedule.
A field goal in the dying moments in 2011 lifted Mooney past ODA once again after the Thunder built a lead through big plays highlighted by Demardre Patterson.
Patterson isn't with ODA anymore. He transferred to Cardinal Mooney and will figure prominently in the backfield alongside Anthony Caiazzo, who returned from a seasonlong hamstring injury last Friday against Fort Meade.
The margin of victory in the last two games (two points in each), coupled with the way they ended, produced a rivalry between the programs.
ODA hosts Mooney in what will be the final regular-season game for Caiazzo, Thunder quarterback Evan Wilson and several other seniors.
Smithers said Wilson is the real deal and creates potential matchup problems.
However, ODA's Achilles' heel all year has been its defense. That unit ranks dead last among area programs in total defense with 465.1 yards allowed per game.
"It's going to be a shootout, and it's going to be pretty much who has the ball last," ODA head coach Brett Timmons said. "I don't know what they are going to do offensively. ... I think they are going to feed (Caiazzo) and Demardre (Patterson)."
But Timmons knows first-hand the skill and speed that Patterson brings. He scored twice for the Thunder in last season's game.
"We know his strengths; we know his weaknesses," Timmons said. "It's a daunting task for us defensively to try to figure out how to contain both of them. I don't think you really do contain them. I think they are going to get theirs. ... We've just got to go score for score. They score, we score."
Mooney's a Class 3A program, while ODA is a 2A school. Mooney has played larger schools locally and developed a rivalry with Sarasota Booker until the series ended in the early 2000s after the Tornadoes earned a lopsided victory.
Smithers said he plans on playing Booker next season, but must wait until after state redistricting comes out to begin scheduling.
Mooney's lack of a natural local rival put ODA in the spotlight.
The rivalry is just beginning to blossom.
"In years past, Mooney has always been the gold standard as far as athletic excellence in this area (for private schools)," Timmons said. "And now we've kind of closed the gap, or at least made some headway."