TAMPA — With a three-star quarterback, a hard-nosed running back and a Division I prospect at receiver, Wharton’s offense seemed ready to become one of the best in Tampa Bay.
And it has been — at times.
But the Wildcats are still searching for offensive consistency, even after last week’s comeback win over Newsome put Wharton (5-1, 2-0) tied with Plant atop Class 8A, District 6.
“We’ve got to start putting points on the board with the offense,” coach David Mitchell said. “We’re not getting that done.”
Wharton has shown flashes of offensive success. It put up 21 points last week against a Newsome team that held Tampa Bay Tech’s explosive offense to only 12 points. Only Plant (47 points) has scored more against Riverview than Wharton did (41).
Quarterback Chase Litton ranks among Tampa Bay’s top 10 passers in completion percentage (58.3 percent) and yards (961), while throwing eight touchdowns and only two interceptions.
The Wildcats have also benefited from running back Jeff Keil, who had a breakout game with more than 250 total yards last week.
The 5-foot-10 senior has boosted his rushing average by a yard and a half per carry from last fall, and only five players in the county have rushed for more yards (544).
“We had a running game last year at the end of the season, but we kinda picked it up this season running the ball,” said receiver Auden Tate, a 6-foot-4 junior who is receiving interest from Western Kentucky, Akron and others.
But Wharton’s offense has had its slipups, too.
Center Kagan Goulding is the only senior on an offensive line with four sophomores, so the unit started slowly in the players’ first tastes of varsity football. They mustered only 243 yards and no points in a 33-0 loss to Plant City in Week 2.
“I wouldn’t say it was a wakeup call,” Mitchell. “It just lets you know you’ve got to play physical football. They played physical football, and we did not. That’s how it goes.”
Wharton has rebounded from the struggles against the Raiders. Although the Wildcats scored only one offensive touchdown against 1-5 Freedom, they’ve won four games in a row heading into Friday’s matchup with Steinbrenner.
With junior running back Terrance Smith and complementary receivers Austin Tolley and Norsalus Jackson, the Wildcats have solid pieces to make a playoff run. Mitchell is just waiting for them to unite on the same night.
“It’s in bits and pieces,” Mitchell said. “The puzzle’s not all together yet.”
Photo: Wharton's Jeff Keil
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.