A loss wasn’t the destination head coach Ken Sommers and the Out-of-Door Academy football team hoped for, but Sommers was pleased with the route his team travelled on Friday.
The Thunder faced a 14-0 deficit in the fourth quarter and drew within a few yards of a possible victory. But Zephyrhills Christian Academy held on and defeated ODA, 14-8, in the season opener Friday at Thunder Stadium.
The Thunder began a culture change in the fourth quarter, Sommers said.
“(It’s) staying positive, supporting each other, working hard, being more disciplined, playing every play regardless of score, conditions, what the other team looks like,” he said.
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Rain was a factor for the Thunder for the second consecutive Friday. Out-of-Door (0-1) was forced to stop its preseason game on Aug. 19 at Fort Myers Southwest Christian due to bad weather. This time, the field was slippery from a late-afternoon thunderstorm, but the teams adapted.
John Emmanuel put the Warriors (1-0) on the scoreboard with a 1-yard run that capped a 23-yard drive with 3:24 remaining in the second quarter. On the previous drive Emanuel returned a short Out-of-Door punt to the Thunder 1.
The Warriors’ Johnny Casarez recovered a bad snap on the ensuing point-after attempt and ran it in for a two-point conversion to put Zephyrhills Christian up 8-0. ZCA went up 14-0 with 11:20 remaining in the fourth on a 31-yard touchdown run by My’Kael Chavis.
Out-of-Door then started the comeback that pleased Sommers, scoring on a 13-yard run by Gus Mahler. He also converted a run to make it 14-8 with 3:30 remaining. After recovering a fumble at its own 16, ODA moved down the field and was inside the Warriors’ 5-yard line as time ran out.
Out-of-Door was 3-7 last year in Sommers’ first season as head coach. The Thunder is playing in the Sunshine State Athletic Conferenc this year, rather than the Florida High School Athletic Association, in an attempt to play more equal competition.
Joseph Runge’s 45-yard field goal attempt for Out-of-Door fell short midway through the first quarter.
Dakota Dickerson rushed nine times for 33 yards in the first half for Out-of-Door. Jason Fineberg rushed four times for 22. Calvin Samuel led all rushers in the first half with four carries for 39 yards for Zephyrhills Christian. My’Kael Chavis rushed four times for 33 and Emmanuel three times for 29,
First-game jitters and a wet field led to sloppy first-half play. Zephyrhills Christian had seven penalties and Out-of-Door had four. Zephyrhills Christian finished with 19 penalties, Out-of-Door nine.
Zephyrhills Christian 14, Out-of-Door Academy 8
Z– Emmanuel 1 run (Smith run) (3:24)
Z– Chavis 31 run (Casarez kick) (11:20)
O– Mahler 13 run (Mahler run) (3:30)
RUSHING: ZCA: Thomas 6-37, Chavis 10-119, Emmanuel 5-33, Sampson 7-74, Samuel 4-39, Miller 4-13, Smith (-2). ODA: Fineberg 7-26, Dickerson 12-36, Mahler, 12-63, Brinling 1-1.
PASSING: ZCA: Emmanuel 0-3, Samuel 0-1, Chavis 0-2. ODA: Mahler 12-20-0-106.
RECEIVING: ODA: Balance 1-16, Bertrand 4-51, Runge 2-18, Dickerson 1-(-2), Luhrsen 1-4, Dennehy 1-8, Fineberg 2-11.