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Tampa Bay Tech advances to first state semifinal

Once the Titans break through for the their first score against Wharton, they never stop, putting up 42 unanswered points.
Tampa Bay Tech senior running back Ronald Sims breaks away for a 32-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter in the Class 7A, Region 3 final vs. Wharton on Friday night.
Tampa Bay Tech senior running back Ronald Sims breaks away for a 32-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter in the Class 7A, Region 3 final vs. Wharton on Friday night. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Nov. 27, 2021
Updated Nov. 27, 2021

TAMPA — Wharton kicked two field goals in the first quarter of its Class 7A, Region 3 final against Tampa Bay Tech on Friday, snatching an early lead and just about all the momentum from the start.

The Titans had negative yards of offense until midway through the second quarter, but coach Jayson Roberts wasn’t concerned. One of his team’s biggest strengths, he said, is its ability to adjust on the fly.

“I think that’s probably the biggest attribute of this team, the fact that they believe in the system and they believe in their coaches,” Roberts said. “When we get down, when things happen, there’s never any panic, there’s never any worry. They know we’re going to sit down, we’re going to get on the whiteboard, and we’re going to make our adjustments.”

And adjust the Titans did. Junior quarterback Xavione Washington threw a 16-yard touchdown in the second quarter to put Tampa Bay Tech on the board, and once the Titans started scoring, they put up 42 unanswered points. A 42-6 victory earned the Titans their first region championship in the school’s 52 years.

Before the game, Tampa Bay Tech had been known for its stingy defense. And while the Titans delivered on that end against Wharton — especially in the second half, when Wharton mustered fewer than 20 yards of offense — Tampa Bay Tech (13-0) turned heads on the other side of the ball all night.

After Washington’s first touchdown pass to senior receiver John Ponder, the Titans got on the board again before halftime after the Wildcats fumbled in Wharton territory. Senior running back James Evans cashed in with a 1-yard touchdown run for the Titans.

It was still a one-score game at halftime, but when the Titans took over after the break, they promptly drove 80 yards, stringing together three first downs before Washington found sophomore wide receiver Javion McKay for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

Coach Jayson Roberts receives a celebratory ice bath from Norris Davis (No. 2) andJohn Ponder (No. 4) after the titans defeated Wharton.
Coach Jayson Roberts receives a celebratory ice bath from Norris Davis (No. 2) andJohn Ponder (No. 4) after the titans defeated Wharton. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

“(At halftime) we got the opportunity to look at some things on the whiteboard and see what was working, what wasn’t working and why it wasn’t working,” Roberts said.

“What got the offense going in the second half was the fact that we were able to move the ball running, which then led us to be able to open up some things in the passing game.”

From there, Tampa Bay Tech rolled. Senior running back Ronald Sims broke away for a 32-yard rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter before the Titans took advantage of a big punt return, which set up Evans’ second touchdown of the night.

In the final minutes of the game, Wharton (9-3) had yet another turnover, and Washington scored on a 4-yard quarterback keeper.

Tampa Bay Tech’s 42 points are twice as many as the Wildcats’ defense had given up in a game all season.

“Offense and defense is going to come to play every time,” Washington said. “We do have a good defense, but the offense is going to click, too.”

Next week the Titans face Lake Gibson in a state semifinal. But regardless of the outcome, Roberts is proud of the history his team has already made.

When Roberts, who became coach in 2011, started as a volunteer assistant at Tampa Bay Tech 15 years ago, the Titans were winless.

Now they can’t seem to lose.

“It’s indescribable,” Roberts said. “To do it with this team, to be able to see it come full circle … it’s probably one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.”