As the clock started and quarterback Cam’ron Ransom dropped back to throw, time he thought his offensive line gave him to find an open receiver quickly dwindled.
The Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic senior was pummeled by a host of blue jerseys, as Out-of-Door Academy’s Tucker Harris wrapped him up for a sack on the first play of a game just a few seconds old. The defensive stand set the tone for the remaining four quarters, as the Thunder (6-1) rolled past a Crimson Hawks (4-4) squad 42-6 on Friday in the first round of the SSAC playoffs for the Coral Division.
It was a major victory for ODA, a team that hadn’t seen a five-win season since 2011. In the past four games alone since a staggering loss to Saint Stephen’s in September, the Thunder averaged 40 points per game against opponents.
“We’re genuinely speechless — the win speaks for itself,” said head coach Ken Sommers. “We literally came into this season with people asking me whether we were even going to have a program this year, and now players are getting texts from kids in the school … there’s just a vibe and energy now.”
After a fast first-drive performance from Ransom that amounted to no score for the Hawks, ODA tabbed its first run to the house on a 1-yard carry from running back Dakota Dickerson. With eight minutes left in the quarter, the Thunder wasted no time scoring another four times in the first half.
But within the first quarter, senior quarterback Gus Mahler limped off the field after a low hit to his knee that already donned a brace. He returned with four minutes left in the half to rush for a 5-yard keeper.
The senior faced passing woes, but relied on Dickerson’s run game to push through the physical Santa Fe Catholic defense. In the first half, the senior garnered 110 rushing yards on 15 carries and four touchdowns.
“On film, you could see we could open up the run game,” said Mahler. “Their (Hawks) front seven was aggressive, but if you could get them to choose a gap then Dakota could bounce where ever he needed to go,” Mahler said. “
ODA’s defense also played a heavy hand in racking up a score and gaining a running clock for the second half. Wide receiver JT Taylor was the lone player in for a touchdown, with the Hawks missing the PAT midway through the first quarter. The Thunder defense, led by sophomore Ryan Ives and junior Tucker Harris, managed to force five turnovers over the night.
A deep 52-yard connection from Mahler to wide receiver Ethan Bertrand was the only other touchdown of the night in the third quarter.
ODA goes on to face SSAC rival Saint Stephen’s in semifinal play for the Coral Division. The Falcons dealt ODA a 61-7 loss back in September.