tampabay.com

Three unlikely stars in Cowboys' victory

Gaither gets closer to the district title with a 17-7 win over Wharton.

By SCOTT PURKS
Published October 14, 2006


TAMPA - Three plays - a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown, a fumble deep in enemy territory and a 47-yard field goal - were about the only difference between Wharton and Gaither in a brutal defensive struggle.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, the three big plays went their way in a 17-7 win.

The heroes? Some guys who haven't grabbed a ton of the headlines: freshman Allen Sampson, who returned the punt for a touchdown; Junior Zach Henderson, who normally plays defensive and returns punts and kickoffs but played quarterback in place of injured starter John Chesnut; and junior Nick Cattoi, who booted the 47-yarder with three minutes remaining.

"We have some guys with some character that came through when it counted," said Gaither coach Mark Kantor. Gaither (6-1) all but sealed the Class 5A, District 4 title by pushing its district record to 3-0. "This was a huge, huge win for us. Huge."

Henderson last Saturday got a call from Kantor, who said Chesnut had suffered a joint separation in his throwing arm and wouldn't be able play. Henderson said he drove to Gaither immediately and started practicing.

"I wasn't nervous at all because I've been preparing for this all my life," he said.

Henderson completed only one pass, an 11-yarder on third down that kept the drive alive before Cattoi's winning kick.

Henderson also had one of the key runs, a 5-yarder for a touchdown four plays after Wharton had fumbled the ball away on its own 22-yard line. That score put Gaither up 14-0 just before the half.

"In a tight game like this, the mistakes are gonna get you," Wharton coach David Mitchell said. Wharton dropped to 9-1, 1-1 in district play.