Wharton cornerback Fred Jolly has been one of the top players this season on the Wildcats’ fearsome defense. (Photo: Alyssa Cason).

Prior to Wharton High’s game against Plant on Oct. 23, first-year head coach Mike Williams was about the only person around the Wildcats’ football program who could remember the last time Wharton beat the Panthers.

But that’s only because he played in that game, for Plant, which suffered a 15-14 loss on that night — way back in 2000.

Well, it doesn’t take such a long memory to remember such things anymore, because Wharton beat Williams’ alma mater 10-0 — even more impressive considering that Plant had scored 40 or more points in the last five games between the teams.

The win improved Wharton’s record to 6-0 on the season, its best start since going 7-0 in 2006. It can match that start tonight with a win over Durant at Wharton.

“We expected to have a good season, but maybe not to this extent,” says Williams, a former college All-American wide receiver at Southern Cal and first-round NFL draft pick of Detroit. “I knew we had some good players, and some good size, but we also had a bunch of young players competing for the first time.”

Another thing Williams knew — his defense was going to be nasty. And it has been.

The Wildcats have only allowed 23 points in six games. Only one team — Alonso — has scored a touchdown against Wharton, getting two while losing  44-17 to the Wildcats. Wharton has shut out Freedom 50-0, King 14-0, and Plant.

While the offense is still rounding into shape, the ‘Cats have been truly dominant on the other side of the ball.

Junior linebacker Henry Griffith leads the team with 56 tackles, including nine for a loss of yards, and Booker Pickett Jr. has 50 tackles. Only a freshman, Pickett Jr. is already 6’-4”, 200 pounds — “He’s a monster,”  Williams says — and shares the same on-field ferocity as his father, a former University of Miami linebacker.

Junior linebacker  Daveon Crouch, arguably the team’s best overall player and a Division I prospect, has a team-high nine sacks and regularly delivers a wallop, forcing six fumbles.

And, if you can bypass the linebackers, the Wildcats’ defensive backfield will be waiting for you.

“We have elite cover guys,” Williams says. “In my book, we have the best secondary in the county that nobody is talking about.”

Junior cornerback Jairon Dorsey leads the team with four interceptions, and has returned two of them for touchdowns. Junior Fred Jolly has eight passes defended and returned a punt blocked by Pickett Jr. for a TD with five minutes left to beat Palm Harbor University 7-3.

Williams says Junior Jason Cornwell, who returned his only interception this season 70 yards for a score, and senior Markell Dominique are primetime players as well.

Wharton, which had its Oct. 30 game against Steinbrenner canceled due to Covid-19 issues related to the Warriors, will wrap up the regular season tonight, then will host Riverview in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs on Nov. 13.

Williams hopes his offense, directed by quarterback Emery Floyd, and the 1-2 punch of running backs Keith Morris and Johnny Cason, is clicking by then. Along with the defense, he thinks something special might be brewing off Bruce B. Downs Blvd.

“Even though the program may have been up and down, Coach Mitchell really had a group that wasn’t afraid to work hard, wasn’t afraid to be in the weight room,” Williams says. “He had good things going. We’re going to keep it going.”

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