TRINITY — Wharton coach Mike Williams had so much confidence in his defense going into Friday’s Class 7A quarterfinal that he didn’t foresee the need for a lot of offensive prowess against Mitchell.
“We’ve got the best group around. We just do,” Williams said about his defense. “We said, with this group, if we can get three touchdowns, we thought it would be hard for them to score that many times on us.”
From the opening quarter, it was clear even three touchdowns would be difficult to come by in what proved to be a battle of stout defenses. The game began with seven straight punts, and the Mustangs had five tackles for loss during that span.
But once Wharton running back Arkese Parks started getting involved, the Wildcats found their way. The sophomore rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns Friday to lead Wharton to a 15-8 victory.
Mitchell and Wharton had just one first down apiece in the first quarter. Midway through the second, Parks broke away for a 29-yard run on the first play of a Wildcat drive. Then Wharton (8-2) kept feeding him the ball.
Parks, who came into the night averaging just 36 yards per game, had five carries on that second-quarter drive, capping it with a 5-yard touchdown to get Wharton on the board.
“They said, ‘Arkese, you’ve got to make big plays, we need you, we need you.’ So when I got the ball, I just had to make something happen,” Parks said. “When our O-line got right, when they got hot, fired up ... we just started playing Wharton football.”
The Wharton defense held Mitchell to just 35 yards of offense in the first half, but on their second drive of the third quarter, things started clicking for the Mustangs (8-3). Quarterbacks Chris Ferrini and Ethan Rice traded snaps, and a Wharton offside penalty on fourth down kept Mitchell’s drive alive. Eventually, Rice took off for a 16-yard touchdown run, and a two-point conversion gave the Mustangs a one-point lead as the third-quarter clock expired.
Mitchell held onto its lead for much of the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats, attempting to snatch it back, missed a 38-yard field goal on their next possession.
But when Mitchell got the ball back with a chance to all but put Wharton away, the Wildcat defense stuffed the Mustang runner each time, and Ferrini and Rice each threw an incomplete pass to force a Mitchell punt from its own 5-yard line.
Parks used the ensuing short field to his advantage, breaking away for a 21-yard game-sealing touchdown, his sixth of the year.
He had a good night, Parks admitted, perhaps his best of the season to date.
Not lost on the sophomore, though, is exactly who made it possible.
“I love our defense,” he said. “Our defense came in clutch. We needed them. That’s when everyone came together.”