Gryphons recover a late Wharton fumble for a 21-13 district victory.
TAMPA - When the ball squirted free and his teammates recovered a fumble late in Thursday's game at Wharton, Sickles running back Pat Shores jumped about as high as he could.
"I was so happy," the senior said. "My initial reaction was that we've got the ball, now we have to win."
Shores then made it happen.
With 1:07 left, he scored on a 16-yard run to break a tie and give his Gryphons a dramatic 21-13 win.
In the process, Sickles (3-3, 2-1 in Class 5A, District 8) not only claimed the Times Cup, which goes to the series' annual winner, but improved its positioning in a crowded district race.
"Our kids really fought hard the whole game," Sickles coach Bob Irvin said. "I told them to keep grinding it out and play as one, and they did."
Wharton (2-4, 1-2), playing without seven injured starters, rallied from a 13-0 deficit and had both the ball and momentum after Jamel Edwards' interception with 4:05 remaining. Three plays netted the Wildcats 15 yards as they moved to their 39. But at the 2:22 mark, Wharton had trouble with the quarterback-running back exchange and Sickles recovered.
"We had the ball and it was tied," Wharton coach Melvin Cunningham said. "At worst, the game was going to overtime. As long as we had the ball, they weren't going to score."
Sickles' recovery didn't guarantee anything.
Since producing long touchdown drives on their first two series, the Gryphons hadn't done much on offense. Before its final possession, Sickles' had produced only two plays longer than five yards in the second half.
That quickly changed.
On first-and-10 from the Wharton 37, Shores ran for 11 yards. Four plays later, he provided the go-ahead points, capping a 153-yard rushing effort. A two-point conversion moved the lead to eight.
Wharton still had time - though not very much - to mount a rally. But the task of going 77 yards in 67 seconds with one timeout was simply too much. When it was over, Sickles doused its coach with water. Not far away, Shores pumped his fist and smiled.
"I love this whole team," he said. "This feels great."