LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Out-Of-Door Academy jumped out to a 14-point lead and then seemed to lose its weapons.
Cardinal Mooney unveiled an old weapon that had been dormant nearly the entire season, and he provided a spark to lead the Cougars to a 27-17 victory over host ODA on Friday night at Thunder Stadium in the season finale for both teams, who finished 5-5.
ODA dressed only 24 players with many going both ways. The Thunder wore down in the second half, and Anthony Caiazzo took advantage of their fatigue to run for 173 yards in the final two quarters. The senior finished with 254 yards on 33 carries and three touchdowns.
"I am very happy to win our last game for our seniors and especially for Anthony to play as well as he did," Mooney head coach Josh Smithers said. "He finished two full games at the end of the year after missing almost the entire season with a hamstring injury. We put in our wildcat this week for him. I don't know if it surprised them as much as it is tough to defend."
ODA looked unstoppable early in the game, scoring on its first two possessions with senior quarterback Evan Wilson completing seven straight passes to open the game.
After the Thunder stopped Mooney on the opening possession, Wilson hit Drew Fineberg with a five-yard TD pass. The Thunder got the ball back on a three-and-out by the Cougars and scored on a 37-yard run by Wilson to take a 14-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game.
Wilson completed 11 of 15 passes for 98 yards in the first half. He finished the night connected on 27 of 38 passes for 226 yards and rushed for 123 yards.
Cardinal Mooney answered Wilson's touchdown with a 21-yard TD run by Caiazzo to cap a 64-yard, seven-play drive where he accounted for all but two yards.
The Cougars cut their deficit to 14-13 at halftime on a 43-yard scoring strike from Reese Vita to Casey Gunderson, who got behind the Thunder secondary and was all alone.
ODA extended its lead to 17-13 on a 22-yard field goal by Bryan Kirshe about midway through the third quarter, but Mooney came back to take the lead on 14-play, 63-yard drive that was capped off by a 5-yard Caiazzo run with 2:56 left in the third period. He added the death blow on a 10-yard TD run with 4:38 left in the game against an ODA defense that looked wilted.
"We had dropped balls and penalties, and we let them back in the game as we have the past two years," ODA head coach Brett Timmons said. "We have to find a way to finish them off. I wasn't surprised at their wildcat. He is their best player so they put the ball in his hands and we just didn't wrap up and tackle.
"They are supposed to beat us. They are a bigger school, but if you look at the film it is more us than them that lost the game. For what we have and what we did it is a great season. To go the distance taking our district champion to the brink; we were a play or two away."
It was Mooney's fourth straight victory over ODA in a game that had many emotions. The Cougars were flagged 10 times for 135 yards in penalties and tempers got testy at the end.
"We felt like we had a great team this year and we got some key injuries and it definitely affected us," Smithers said. "I am proud that our kids never made excuses and showed up every week and played hard. Obviously we wish we would've made the playoffs, but I am happy for our seniors. Tonight I knew once our kids settled in and started making plays we would be all right."