TAMPA — It's almost as if he never left.
Thanks in large part to the return of head coach Tommy Tonelli this season, Wharton is back as Class 6A, District 8 champions after a 45-31 win over Brandon on Saturday night.
Tonelli left the Wildcats (26-1) after leading them to the state final four in 2007, then spent two years at South Florida before returning. In his two-year absence, Wharton went a combined 28-25.
What a turnaround. Saturday was the Wildcats' 24th straight win.
"We're not counting, we just take them one at a time and whatever it adds up to be that's fine with us," Tonelli said. "I feel great."
Wharton used a stifling defense in the first half to take a 12-point lead into halftime, holding the Eagles (11-15) to just nine points. After both teams combined for just 10 third-quarter points, each team picked up the pace in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles cut the Wharton lead to six with five minutes to play before the Wildcats used a quick 6-0 run to ice the game.
Wharton junior Xavier Owens led all scorers with 15 points. Damian Dixon (13) and C.J. McGill (10) also scored in double digits for the Wildcats.
"I'm just happy for the players and glad they can enjoy the moment," Tonelli said.
Travis Green led the Eagles with 10 points.