TAMPA — Tampa Bay Tech’s defensive line has grown accustomed to setting the tone, keeping opponents at bay while the Titans score early and often.
But in Friday’s battle of the unbeatens against Wharton, Tampa Bay Tech got a taste of its own medicine.
Wharton’s defense came out hot, holding the Titans to just 15 yards of offense on their first four drives and forcing them to punt it away each time. The Wildcats, meanwhile, went up by two scores.
Still, Titan coach Jayson Roberts wasn’t worried.
“We’ve had this type of adversity before. We’ve been down before, we’ve played in big games,” he said. “I knew at some point our guys would hit their stride, they were going to take a little while to see what was going to work and what we needed to do.”
Tampa Bay Tech (8-0) eventually did just that.
Following an interception from Wharton senior quarterback Carson Mohler — the first of three Wildcat turnovers — Titan junior quarterback Xavione Washington hit freshman wide receiver Santonyo Isaac on an 80-yard touchdown pass. Washington had two more touchdown passes as Tampa Bay Tech scored 21 unanswered points on the way to a 21-12 victory.
Both teams struggled to run the ball in the first half, but Wharton (6-1) got on the board early when Mohler found sophomore running back Arkese Parks for a 53-yard touchdown pass on third and long. The Wildcats forced another Tampa Bay Tech three-and-out before Wharton senior wide receiver Jason Cornwall returned the ensuing punt 64 yards for a touchdown.
“When the game (starts like that), you always get worried. But you’ve got to keep your composure, which we were able to do,” said TBT senior receiver Greg Gaines III, who now has more than 400 yards receiving on the year. “The whole team, we kept our composure, and we made the best of what we could.”
The second half began much like the first, with Wharton and Tampa Bay Tech combining for four straight punts. Early in the third quarter, though, Mohler went down with an apparent injury and never returned. The Tampa Bay Tech defense — which held the Wildcats to negative rushing yardage in the first half — took advantage quickly.
Twice in the second half, Wharton turned the ball over, once on an interception from backup quarterback Rickeem Parks, and the other on a fumble. Each time, the Titans took advantage of the field position, and Washington connected with Gaines twice on touchdown passes of 11 and 13 yards.
Roberts conceded that Wharton’s quarterback misfortune was a gain for his defense, as the Wildcats only lost yards after Mohler’s final drive.
But regardless of the opponent under center, Roberts said, his defense won the night — just like they’ve done every time they’ve taken the field.
“We’re still going to be carried by our defense and our offensive line. They played phenomenal tonight,” Roberts said. “I’m really just excited for the program.”