The Wildcats, who have won no more than two games in each of the school's first four seasons, have high expectations after Friday's upset of Robinson.
By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 5, 2001
TAMPA -- As soon as he saw running back Kwane Doster lined up at wide receiver, Wharton cornerback Chris Wilson knew something was up.
"He isn't out there for no reason," Wilson said.
So even when Robinson's offensive line stood still, hoping to lull Wharton's defense to sleep after the final snap of Friday's non-district game, Wilson kept pace with Doster down the sideline.
Wilson's suspicions were confirmed when quarterback Chris Conely launched a pass downfield. Wilson turned just in time to see the ball and came down with it inside the Wharton 5-yard line.
"I saw (Doster) running, so I was like, "There must be a reason,"' Wilson said. "So I just went ahead and followed him wherever he went. I looked back, and the ball was there."
Wilson's interception, his second of the game, did not just preserve Wharton's 16-13 upset win. It might have marked a turning point in the history of the fifth-year program.
After winning no more than two games in each of its first four seasons, Wharton finds itself halfway there with nine games remaining.
"This is Wharton history to win the first game of the season," coach Richard Wood said.
"To me, it's a large hurdle that I've been trying to get over for the past three years."
Wharton showed character coming back not only from a 13-10 deficit, but from the negative mind-set that had surrounded the program in its first few years. Wood said positive thinking and dedication to an offseason conditioning program made the difference.
"The kids showed resilience by sticking together like a unit," the coach said. "When things happened like that in the past, they would have just dropped their heads and given up."
Twice faced with fourth-and-5 situations in the final minutes, Wharton put the ball in the air rather than punt. Ross Corcoran's first fourth-down pass drew an interference penalty, keeping the drive alive.
The second, a 35-yard completion to Michael Coonce, set up Larry Edwards' winning touchdown run with less than two minutes remaining.
"It was help for our confidence," Coonce said. "All the work we've been putting in since last November is paying off, and it looks like good things are going to happen for us this year."
Coonce and Wilson weren't the only heroes for Wharton.
Corcoran passed for 165 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown to Edwards. And the offensive line held strong.
Defensively, Wilson and Edwards anchored a unit that limited Doster to just more than 100 yards rushing and, most important, kept him out of the end zone.
"You control a player like that, and it's a good chance you'll win," Wood said.
Wharton (1-0) hosts Brandon (0-1) on Friday before opening district play Sept. 14 against Alonso (0-1).
By then, Wood said he hopes his team will have more than the Robinson win to talk about.
"We aren't just satisfied with this one," Coonce said.
"There's going to be a whole lot more."