Mahler, Dickerson lead ODA to first postseason in seven years

Gus Mahler rolled to his left, dodged a tackler, and shoveled a pass to the first open teammate he saw.

Fortunately for Mahler, that teammate was Dakota Dickerson, who muscled his way into the end zone for one of six touchdowns Out-of-Door Academy scored Monday night.

Something special seemed to happen whenever Mahler or Dickerson touched the ball on Monday against St. Petersburg Shorecrest, and something special is happening at ODA now that the Thunder are headed back to the playoffs.

Out-of-Door Academy throttled the Chargers, 45-14, to clinch the second seed out of the Coral Bay Division of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference. The last time ODA made the postseason was 2010 when it was competing in Class 1B of the Florida High School Athletic Association.

The Thunder made the jump last fall to the independent SSAC in order to breathe life back into a program that won just six games from 2013-15.

It came to fruition during a muggy Monday night at Thunder Stadium, where ODA (3-1 overall and in the division) broke things open with a 24-point second quarter.

“You’ve got to always believe it’s possible. Whether or not it’s probable is the better question, I guess, in our minds. We lost a whole of talent, a bunch of great, great guys who had given a lot to the program,” said Mahler, a senior. “So we were kind of reeling from that. But our group of seniors is super close. We’ve been around with each other since fifth and sixth grade on our lower campus.”

Mahler remembers watching ODA’s playoff teams, including the 2009 squad that reached a Class 1B state semifinal.

“It’s great to bring the program back to where we feel it belongs,” he said.

Shorecrest dealt the first blow Monday, when Cooper Lanigan pulled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Drew Zolper to make the score 7-0 less than four minutes after kickoff. But Mahler, who completed his first six attempts, drew the Thunder even by hitting a wide-open Filip Svoboda for a 10-yard scoring strike five minutes later.

Then ODA went to work, fueled by Mahler and Dickerson. Mahler’s 14-yard pass to Ethan Bertrand gave the Thunder a 14-7 lead eight minutes before half and Dickerson scored from 17 yards out on a run less than three minutes later.

After Mahler and Dickerson connected on the aforementioned shovel, Svoboda closed the half with a flourish by drilling a 42-yard field goal to give the Thunder a 31-7 lead heading into halftime.

Mahler was 10-for-15 for 121 yards, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for one. Dickerson, who also played some at linebacker, needed just eight carries to go for 174 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

“It’s the first time our offense has really clicked like that,” said ODA coach Ken Sommers, whose Thunder didn’t play last Friday. “I think having an extended week...We were finally able to have one game plan, focus on that and really nail that execution. Gus saw the field beautifully (Monday) and Dakota runs with his heart.”

The Thunder play again Friday when they host Kennedy Catholic out of Somers, N.Y. Then it’s back to preparing for the playoffs.

“There have been questions circulating around this program, and we got a group of kids that decided to buy in, build a culture, work hard, and believe in themselves,” Sommers said. “To see that validated (Monday), not just by a playoff berth, but really everything clicking, all three phases on one night, it’s fantastic. It feels great.”

Article originally from the Herald Tribune