tampabay.com

Wharton is own worst enemy

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published October 29, 2006


LAND O’LAKES — The Wharton defense had to take on two offenses Friday night -— the one from Land O’Lakes trying to score, and the Wildcats’ offense that kept setting the Gators up.

Five turnovers led to every Gator point as the Wildcats fell 18-0, giving Land O’Lakes the Class 5A, District 5 championship.

The loss ended Wharton’s season in disappointing style, as the Wildcats were once 7-0 before dropping two of their last three, both pivotal 5A-5 contests.

“It’s tough to lose the last two,’’ said second-year coach David Mitchell. “It hurts. We’ve got a team here that wants to go to the playoffs. It hurts.’’

Approaching lightning forced referees to call the game with 1:50 remaining. By then, the Wildcats (8-2) had already buried themselves with three lost fumbles in the first half and an interception.

The first fumble came on Wharton’s first possession and led to 43-yard scoring drive to make it 6-0. The Wildcats lost a fumble on their second drive, and their punt was blocked out of the end zone on their third possession to make it 8-0.

The Wildcats’ defense kept them in the game, but another botched handoff at the Gator 2 was recovered by Land O’Lakes with 1:35 left in the first half, and with 15 seconds left Josh Powell was intercepted.

 “To win a championship you have to play mistake-free football, and we didn’t do that,’’ Mitchell said.