By Matt Wiley

The battle for New Tampa is upon us, and the Freedom High Patriots are poised to take on the Wildcats from Paul R. Wharton High on October 12 in the Pats’ backyard.

The Wildcats have already proven to be a force to be reckoned with in Class 8A, District 6, currently standingat 3-1, following a heartbreaking 13-12 loss to 4-0 Durant in another non-district game.

“We’re looking good so far,” says Wharton head coach David Mitchell. “We’re just taking things one day at a time and trying to stay healthy.”

Mitchell says that he doesn’t think the bye week will affect the Wildcats performance. He feels that Wharton’s offense will carry them past Durant.

“Our passing game and offensive line are really coming together,” he says, speaking of Wharton’s star quarterback, junior Chase Litton, who has thrown for seven touchdowns (he also has rushed for two TDs) since the season started. “We’ve got a great crew of guys this year.”

Other standout Wharton players include wide receiver Keith “KJ” Hopkins, who has rushed for more than 100 yards and caught two touchdown passes, including a 13-yarder against Durant, and senior WR/defensive back Vernon Hargreaves, two receiving TDs and also set up a score against Durant with an interception. Deon Sampson caught a 57-yard TD from Litton and LB Rocky Enos led the team in tackles.

As far as Freedom is concerned, Mitchell says, “We’re not even thinking about them (the Pats) until the week we play them,” he says.

A few miles south of Wharton in Tampa Palms, the Patriots followed their first big District 7A-7 win over Steinbrenner High with a 35-6 thrashing at home in a non-District loss to Alonso, moving Freedom to a 2-3 overall record (but 1-0 in the District) going into their October 5 District game Chamberlain (1-3, 0-1).

Pats head coach Todd Donohoe is confident after the previous week’s win. As far as Wharton is concerned, he says, “It’s exciting. They’ve got some good players, but we’ve been doing nothing but improving. Our defensive line is playing really well and making plays.”

Among those protecting the Patriots’ end zone, senior linebacker Max Orr leads the team in tackles, followed closely by senior linebacker Nate Godwin. The Patriots will need to play better on both sides of the ball to hold that line and force some crucial turnovers if they want to contain the high-flying Wildcats, who have scored a combined 105 points (21 per game) so far. The Pats were whipped by Durant 57-7 in the opening game of the season.

Freedom’s junior quarterback Taylor King, who is averaging about 70 yards per game with three passing touchdowns and two INTs, was 8-for-13 for 119 yards through the air in the Steinbrenner victory, but only 5-11, 63, with a pick against Alonso.

Donohoe says he thinks his Patriots can handle the expected offensive onslaught by the ‘Cats.

“Wharton’s our rival,” he explains, noting that the two schools are both in New Tampa and are just a few miles from each other. “There’s going to be some serious competition. We definitely want to win.”

The Wharton High Wildcats play at the Freedom High (17410 Commerce Park Dr., Tampa Palms) Patriots at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 12.

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