His players had just been through the most physical game in his four years at Out-of-Door Academy, so the excitement head coach Chris Kempton displayed afterward was legit.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this group of kids,” he said. “Mentally and physically tough.”
The unbeaten Thunder had to overcome on two occasions a nine-point deficit to visiting Bradenton Christian and injuries to three starters, but Kempton’s team did just that in a 42-22 victory over the Panthers on Friday night before a good crowd at Thunder Stadium in the SSAC Coral Bay conference opener.
The victory moved ODA’s record to 4-0, matching its start last season as the best in school history. Bradenton Christian fell to 1-2.
“We’re beat up bad,” Kempton said. “We lost all kinds of guys tonight. We had guys playing positions they never played before. In my opinion, in the four years I’ve been here, this is the best win we’ve had at ODA.”
And it wouldn’t have been possible without quarterback Tyler Beasley, who, quite simply, had the kind of game prep quarterbacks dreams about. The 6-foot-2 junior threw touchdown passes of 45, 30 and 5 yards and added scoring runs of 3, 3 and 5 yards.
After the Panthers had taken their second 9-point lead at 22-13 on a 13-yard scoring run by running back Jordan Miller, his second TD of the game, late in the second quarter, it was time for Beasley to again take over.
Earlier his two 3-yard scoring runs had cut into Bradenton Christian leads. And just before halftime his 45-yard touchdown pass to Connor Pope did it again, making it 22-20 at the break. But it was in the second half when Beasley really shined.
Less than three minutes into the third period his 30-yard touchdown pass to Jarred Flahive put the Thunder up for good at 28-22 with Beasley’s 2-point conversion pass.
A series later a drive that started on the ODA 17 ended with Beasley hooking up with teammate Matt DePalma for a 5-yard score and 35-22 advantage. Beasley’s 5-yard rushing TD in the fourth accounted for the final margin of victory.
“By far the best night he’s had,” Kempton said of Beasley, who finished 19-of-28 for 230 yards and the three scores through the air. “He had the poise in the pocket, he kept his eyes down the field and did just a phenomenal job.”
“It was fun,” Beasley said, who also added 77 yards rushing, second to teammate Colin Castro’s game-high 161 yards. The Thunder ran the ball 40 times for a total of 272.
“We played as a team. If it’s there, I’m running. If not, I have a bunch of time in the pocket. My line is just playing their butts off. If I have to roll, I got receivers open so it just worked out either way.”
Beasley’s favorite target was Pope, who hauled in four passes for 102 yards. Wide receiver Nolan Lewellen had four catches, as did Flahive.
But mostly, with a bigger roster, the Thunder simply wore down the Panthers. Castro did the bulk of his damage in the second half when BC began to tire.
“That was the game we talked about,” Kempton said. “We thought we could be physical and we could try to wear them down and get into the fourth quarter and run the football and shorten the game . . . and that’s kind of the way things worked out.”
Besides the two touchdowns from Miller, who led the Panthers with 93 yards rushing, Bradenton Christian got a 13-yard touchdown from quarterback Zach Seagreaves to wide receiver EJ Williams. But pressured for much of the night, Seagreaves finished 12-of-31 for 153 yards and two interceptions, both by Lewellen at cornerback.
“They’re a much better team,” Bradenton Christian head coach Greg Williford said. “They had more players than we did and they just wore us down a little bit.
“We’re a little banged up and I made some mistakes. I could have done things a lot differently, but I’ve got some great kids and they just need a little bit better coaching by me.”