LUTZ — Both teams carried heavy hearts into Friday's game, but Wharton (6-1) was able to pull away in the second half to win comfortably 45-28.
It was Steinbrenner's homecoming, and Warriors senior Frank Vasquez died in a car accident a week ago Friday. A pregame event honored his memory, and offered a prayer for the recovery of Wharton linebacker Sean McNamee, who suffered a serious head injury at practice this week.
The game itself was a shootout in the first half. Steinbrenner's Curtis Fitch threw touchdown passes of 65 and 63 yards, respectively, in the first quarter. Wharton matched the big plays with sustained drives, capped by two Jeff Keil touchdown runs.
Steinbrenner (1-5) and Wharton traded two more touchdowns each, including a 35-yard throw from Wildcat Chase Litton to Auden Tate. The Wildcats scored once more before halftime, taking a 35-28 lead.
In the second half, the Wildcats' play improved dramatically.
"We started controlling the ball," said coach David Mitchell. "We stopped making mistakes."
Wharton opened the second half with a 44-yard catch and run for Keil, gaining a 42-28 advantage. The defense held Steinbrenner to 49 second-half yards, and a consistent running game allowed the Wildcats to run out the clock.
Litton was 24-for-40 with 480 yards and three touchdowns, and his counterpart, Fitch, was 14-for-33 with 232 yards (183 in the first half) and two scores.
Zealand Shannon, Times correspondent