TAMPA — Just minutes into Wharton’s matchup with undefeated Sumner on Friday night, it looked as though the Wildcats would have to make adjustments to their usual strategy of letting it fly.
On the first three plays of Wharton’s opening possession, junior quarterback Jackson Jensen threw an incomplete pass. The Wildcats were only able to extend their drive because of a Stingray penalty.
The miscue proved costly for Sumner.
With borrowed time to find its stride, Wharton eventually capped that drive with a 34-yard touchdown pass, taking a lead it would hold the rest of the way in its 43-0 shutout victory.
And despite his short-lived, sluggish start under center, Jensen got the Wildcats there by doing exactly what he does best.
“My coaches trusted me to keep letting me throw the ball downfield,” said Jensen, who finished the game with three touchdowns and 226 yards passing. “Even though I did throw three incompletions, (they trusted me) to keep throwing, keep throwing, still believing in me.”
The Wharton coaches didn’t have to lean on their faith in Jensen for long. Once the Wildcats got on the board, they never slowed down. Wharton (3-1) scored on all but three possessions, losing the ball twice to fumbles and once more when Jensen threw an interception. After his initial incompletions, Jensen finished the half by completing seven consecutive passes for 103 yards, including the 34-yard touchdown to running back Arkese Parks and a 4-yard touchdown to wide receiver Deandre Newton.
After the break, Jensen, a transfer this season from Carrollwood Day, picked up right where he left off.
On the Wildcats’ second possession of the half, Jensen completed back-to-back passes of 30-plus yards to set up a 4-yard touchdown run from Stacy Gage, his second score of the night.
Sumner (4-1) saw some defensive success later in the third quarter, stopping Wharton on three consecutive plays and bringing up fourth and 17 for the Wildcats.
But after a quick timeout, Wharton’s offense went right back onto the field. Jensen lofted a 40-yard pass to Parks for a touchdown.
“I liked my matchup with Arkese Parks. Three-step drop, half pressure. I let my playmaker make a play,” Jensen said about the score. “Me and ’Kese, we work after practice. We have a great relationship. It just clicked naturally.”
Wharton’s offense hardly skipped a beat, and its defense was much the same. The closest Sumner, which came in averaging more than 35 points per game, got to putting points on the board was in the first quarter, when it missed a 41-yard field goal. The Wharton defense has now allowed just one touchdown in the last three games.
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It’s momentum that coach Mike Williams said can be attributed, in part, to the leadership of his junior quarterback.
“We put a lot on Jack. If anything, he’s just brought a good attitude about the work to come. And that is not something to underestimate,” Williams said. “It’s infectious, it’s contagious, and you really see the guys rally around him. I’m happy to see him come out and have a good night.”