By Sean Bowes
It may no longer be true as this issue reaches you, but at our press time, anyway, the Wildcats of Paul R. Wharton High were one win away from a playoff berth. Wharton coach David Mitchell’s team (4-4, 1-1 in District 8A-6) had a chance to clinch that playoff slot with a win over Alonso (also 1-1 in the District) on Nov. 4.
After a slow start, the ‘Cats have won their last three in a row, bouncing back from a 37-19 respectable showing against District-leading Plant High with wins over New Tampa rival Freedom High (28-7), Bloomingdale (49-24) and Blake (18-6).
Although the streak started with a win over Freedom, Mitchell will be the first person to tell you that he doesn’t care one bit about rivalries.
“If we spent all year worrying about one game, we would have nothing to look forward to after it was played,” Mitchell says. “I told my team not to worry about any kind of rivalry.”
A Slow Start
The Wildcats didn’t look too worried when they stepped onto the field to play the Patriots (1-8, 1-3 in District 7A-7) in what is traditionally the biggest high school football game in New Tampa every year. Locals call it the “Battle of Bruce B. Downs,” but Mitchell insists that it is always just another game.
The Patriots had high hopes of avenging last year’s loss to Wharton going into this year’s “Battle” (on Oct. 14), as Freedom had just come off its only win of the 2011 season, 14-7 over Chamberlain.
The game started off slow, as neither team had managed to get on the scoreboard with a minute to go in the half . That’s when Wharton sophomore quarterback Chase Litton shuttled Vernon Hargreaves, Jr., the ball on a 50-yd. go route to the 1-yd. line.
After a penalty for holding, Litton scored from 10-yards out, giving the Wildcats a strong lead.
In the third quarter, Wharton senior running back Darius Page turned up the juice.
“He can shut them down,” said Mitchell about Page.
Even before the start of the fourth quarter, things were starting to look bleak for the Patriots, who only managed to put 7 points on the board with a touchdown run from Tyrel Nunn. Hargreaves, who also plays cornerback for Wharton and had a sack and an interception, put the game out of reach by catching a touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Hargreaves has been named one of the top 40 players in Hillsborough County by BigCountyPrep.com.
“We’re slowly getting better. Says Mitchell. “We’ve just got to keep making plays and playing hard.”
If the Wildcats did beat Alonso on Nov. 4, the ‘Cats would grab the District’s #2 seed (behind Plant, which had a 7-1, 2-0 record at our press time) and would travel to Orlando to play the District 8A-5 winner, Dr. Phillips High (8-1, 2-0) on November 18.
Meanwhile, Freedom’s season ended (hopefully, with a win) on Nov. 4, against Wiregrass Ranch High (0-4, 0-8). After losing to Wharton, coach Tchecoy Blount’s Pats were shut out by large margins by both Gaither and Tampa Bay Tech.