- October 11, 2022
Horizon head coach Dennis Thomas finally was able to taste the shock and euphoria of a Gatorade bath after six tries at earning a victory. Seven turned out to be the lucky number for him and his team as they downed fellow first-year program Lake Buena Vista 43-6 Friday, Oct. 15.
After coming close in games against Mount Dora and Colonial, Horizon was able to put things together and earn that win against the Vipers.
“It feels amazing,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to feel. We’ve been close … but it feels amazing to get that first win. Hopefully, we have many more.”
In a game where one team was going to emerge with its first win, the Hawks used a strong first half to pull away. Two first-half touchdown runs from freshman Devon St. Clair powered Horizon to a 36-0 halftime lead.
St. Clair finished the game with 123 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns. Trey Ginn also scored two touchdowns, with Trenton Allen and Michael Dove adding one apiece.
The Hawks finished with 276 rushing yards in the game — more than double their season average of 126.8 rushing yards per game.
“It’s what we want to do,” Thomas said of the ground game. “We want to pound the ball (on) you, because it’s devastating mentally when a team can do that.”
Even with the early-season success, Thomas added there was still even more room to grow as the team waits for its weight room to open.
“We’re so young … if we stick around and gel together, we’re going to be a good team,” he said. “If we get in the weight room, our running game is going to look so much better.”
On defense, Horizon was able to keep Lake Buena Vista in check for much of the game, getting three sacks on Vipers quarterback Josiah McNair and forcing a turnover. Sophomore linebacker Bo Kenney finished the game with 11 tackles to lead the team while junior Josiah Thomas got two sacks on McNair.
The defense had a bend-but-don’t-break mentality. Lake Buena Vista was able to get into the red zone twice, but both times, the Hawks kept the Vipers out of the end zone. Lake Buena Vista’s only points came in the final minute of play, when Andres Romero broke free for a 61-yard run. That score marked Lake Buena Vista’s first scoring play of the season.
Lake Buena Vista head coach Joe Rienzi said getting that score was important for the team’s confidence.
“We’re a young team … in the sense that our kids are picking up football for the first time ever and are playing a varsity football schedule,” Rienzi said. “Every single week, they’re learning and growing, and they’re starting to see those results come together. I’m glad that we have some momentum to build on going into the last couple weeks of the season.”
On their last drive of the first half, the Vipers put together one of the best drives they had all season. Key catches from Mason Hendrickson and Brady Ruth put the Vipers inside the 20-yard line, with a chance to score before halftime.
Although they were not able to score, it showed how much the team had grown over the season, especially at the quarterback position.
“What I love about Josiah is not only is he coachable, but he’s willing to (provide) input and he studies the game of football, so it’s like having a coach out on the field,” Rienzi said. “He’s had to learn a bit on the fly, but I think he’s doing a great job being the kind of leader that we need.”
McNair had a stretch during which he completed several consecutive passes between the last drive of the first half and the beginning of the second. Most of those catches went to Hendrickson, who had big catches for 27 and 35 yards during the game to set the Vipers up with good field position.
“Mason is such a leader that he’s fine … with whatever we need to do,” Rienzi said. “He’s a true leader and is someone that has stepped into that role for a team that is young and inexperienced.”
On its last defensive drive of the game, Lake Buena Vista was able to force a turnover on downs to give the offense one last chance to make something happen before the game was over. It didn’t matter if the Vipers weren’t going to win; they were going to give the home crowd something to cheer about.
And Romero was just the guy to deliver that.
Romero took the ball and burst upfield, avoiding several would-be tacklers as he saw he was home free.
“These kids have been working so incredibly hard — not just in practices and games, (but also) to learn the sport of football,” Rienzi said. “To see one of these guys break free and get that monkey off our back — I felt so great for them, the school, the community because they have been waiting for something like that.”
With no chance of the playoffs in sight for either team, they are looking to build some momentum into the offseason. Horizon plays Davenport, another first-year program, Oct. 22 at home; while Lake Buena Vista goes on the road to play Mount Dora.