All week, Out-of-Door Academy coaches preached timing in practice sessions when simulating what Saturday’s Sunshine State Athletic Conference Coral Bay Division game against visiting St. Petersburg Keswick Christian would be like.
Freshman Ryan Ives and the rest of ODA’s defensive line and linebackers listened.
Three consecutive fumble recoveries — two of which Ives recovered — on a soaked Thunder Stadium field added up to three straight ODA touchdowns and a 40-12 Thunder victory.
“They really worked on us to explode off the ball as soon as the snap happens,” Ives said.
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While Manatee County schools were closed Thursday and Friday and after-school activities on Wednesday wiped out due to Hurricane Hermine, Sarasota County schools stayed open. That meant ODA players attended class and continued practicing throughout the week as their football game was postponed to Saturday because of wet field conditions.
“We’re just hammering the blitz packages and talking about getting off,” said ODA head coach Ken Sommers, whose team improved to 1-1 overall and 1-0 in the division.
They listened and thrived.
The Thunder’s defense recovered four fumbles and forced another turnover on downs, while the Crusaders’ offense generated minus-44 rushing yards in the first half.
Keswick quarterback Jared Bragdon was 1 of 7 passing in the first half for 29 yards with the Thunder’s aggressive defense giving him little time to make a decision.
“We had a mindset that we were going to go ... as hard as we can,” Ives said.
Consequently, ODA built a 27-0 halftime lead, and Keswick’s lack of depth — 23 players were listed with Saturday’s roster — coupled with the early miscues caused the Crusaders to feel the heat. Quite literally.
The heat index for the game hovered around 98 degrees, which saw one first-half injury to Keswick’s Jawuan Akins and one referee that left the game, forcing a four-man crew for most of the game.
“If you look at, heat has more effect on us because (we have) about half the numbers (of players),” Keswick Christian head coach Phil Hayford said. “But it’s tough. There’s no doubt about it, but that’s Florida football. For the first three or four weeks, that’s what you get.”
Meanwhile, ODA’s offense utilized quarterback Gus Mahler’s early consistency with two big passing plays and a steady does of the team’s Thunder (Dakota Dickerson) and Lightning (Jason Fineberg) running combination.
Mahler connected on his first nine passes, which included two completions to junior Ethan Bertrand, who turned each into a 53-yard and 38-yard gain, respectively. Fineberg scored three rushing touchdowns on nine carries, while Dickerson racked up a game-high 76 rushing yards.
“Dakota’s going to hammer you and Finey’s more of a scatback and he’ll scoot back and forth,” Sommers said.
For as good as ODA’s defense was, there was some sloppiness, too. The Thunder had two touchdowns, an 80-yard Dickerson run and an 86-yard interception return by Austin Brinling, called back for a holding or illegal block in the back penalty. They also racked up four personal foul penalties. And one of them resulted in an ejection when Christian McCarthy punched an opposing Keswick Christian player near the end of the third quarter.
Despite ODA’s inclusion into the SSAC, the Thunder still operate as a Florida High School Athletic Association independent meaning the rules set forth governing football and other sports still apply.
Sommers said he thinks that means McCarthy will miss next week’s game.
“We got the win, we’re 1-0 in the conference but if we want to reach our goals, this level of discipline is unacceptable,” said Sommers about the personal foul penalties.
Out-of-Door Academy 40, St. Petersburg Keswick 12
ODA—McCabe Ballance 0 fumble recovery (Trevor Barron kick), 7:20
ODA—Jason Fineberg 9 run (Barron kick), 5:51
ODA—Fineberg 2 run (Christina Lutton kick), 3:36
ODA—Gus Mahler 2 run (Kick failed), 0:28.1
ODA—Austin Brinling 7 pass from Mahler (Kick failed), 7:44
K—Jared Bragdon 1 run (Pass failed), 11:56
ODA—Fineberg 2 run (Barron kick), 8:58
K—Bragdon 11 run (Kick failed), 2:25
Rushing: Keswick 31-39: Jawuan Akins 1-(-2), Nathan Leuthold 14-40, Bragdon 12-(-16), Emmitt Hammons 4-17. ODA 31-147: Fineberg 9-48, Mahler 8-32, Dakota Dickerson 7-76, Brinling 1-(-4), Ethan Marino 2-2, Tomas Giacinti 3-(-3), Michael Coppola 1-(-4).
Passing: Keswick 4-14-1, 75: Bragdon 4-14-1, 75. ODA 10-13-0, 116: Mahler 9-12-0, 122, Joseph Runge 1-1-0, (-8).
Receiving: Keswick 4-75: Hammons 1-29, Leuthold 1-19, Maverick Fulvi 2-27. ODA 10-116: Runge 1-(-6), Brinling 6-20, Colin Castro 1-9, Ethan Bertrand 2-91.