SOUTHWEST ORANGE After winning a combined three games in 2013 and 2014, the Olympia High School Titans more than doubled that total in 2015, finishing the campaign with a 7-4 mark after a postseason bowl game Nov. 11.
A rally by Olympia late in the first half helped pave the way to a 31-28 victory over host Celebration, another team that experienced a turnaround season in 2015 and whose 7-4 final mark is the best in program history, in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Honor Bowl.
For first-year coach Kyle Hayes, the incentive to play the extra contest came from a desire to give his seniors one last chance to take the field as Titans — and to accumulate just a little more game film to arm themselves with as they pursue the game at the next level.
Either way, the extra game paid off for Olympia.
The Titans closed 2015 on a pair of wins after a three-game losing streak. Olympia, which opened the season with a loss against Seminole, had been riding a five-game winning streak through the first half of the season before running into a stretch of tough games against Apopka, Dr. Phillips and Oak Ridge — all losses.
Displaying a resilience that became their calling card in 2015, though, the Titans scored perhaps their most impressive win of 2015 in their regular season finale when they rallied to beat Winter Park on a late field goal by senior Jonathan Messina.
“(That game) was exciting, man — it was a back-and-forth game and it could have went either way,” Hayes said, reflecting on the thrilling 27-24 win over the Wildcats Nov. 6. “(Sophomore quarterback) Joe Milton made some great plays at the end there to put us in range (for the field goal).”
Not only did the Titans regain winning form in 2015, but also they learned how to win close games, with four of their seven wins coming by a touchdown or less.
Olympia will lose some important seniors, including running back Taymel Christian and defensive back Jeff James, among others, but the core of the team is young. The combination of Milton, a sophomore, and wide receiver Bradley Dos Santos, a junior, should make for some progress with the offense into next fall — a unit Hayes said just needs more time to gel after struggling early in the season.
Hayes attended every home game for the Olympia Titans Pop Warner team this fall to be seen by the future players zoned for his program. One of the problems afflicting Olympia since former coach Bob Head left for West Orange in 2012 and was replaced by Tom Paolucci was players relocating to play for other programs, including the Warriors and rival Dr. Phillips. Hayes has a strong belief if the Titans could keep the kids zoned for his program, then it would return to its heyday.
In the meantime, he said his first year was a success and that he is excited about watching this current roster mature.
“Some of our athletes are very young — we still have a very young team,” Hayes said. “That being said, this year was a great experience. Our kids are excited about football.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].