VALRICO — It seemed improbable, if not impossible. And yet, they did it.
Wharton scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, the final with 30 seconds remaining in the game, to defeat Bloomingdale, 30-23.
Coupled with Alonso's loss to Plant, Wharton advances to the state region playoffs as the Class 8A-District 6 runner-up.
“To come back from 23-8, many teams would have said, 'Hey, we're done, game's over,' ” Wharton coach David Mitchell said. “But these guys here, they said, 'We're not finished, we're going to get this thing done.' That shows just you. We finally found our identity that we are a good football team and we can get things done the right way.”
Just into the fourth quarter, Wharton senior running back Jeff Keil scored on a 5-yard touchdown and senior quarterback Chase Litton rushed for a 2-point conversion to close Bloomingdale's lead, 23-16. Wharton forced a punt on the next series and senior Jeremy Jefferson closed it further on a 82-yard TD return with 6:37 left to play. Keil was stopped short on the conversion attempt. Three minutes later, Wharton recovered a Bloomingdale fumble at the 50 with 3:44 left to set up the game-winning drive.
Wharton converted on fourth-and-short and third-and-long, highlighted by a game-saving throw-and-catch from Litton to Auden Tate, to set up first-and-goal. Keil scored his third TD of the game from 3 yards out to give Wharton the lead, and converted the 2-point conversion with a run for the final score.
Keil finished with 77 yards and three touchdowns. Litton, who was held to 14 yards in the first half, finished with 118 yards and was sacked three times.
“I knew I had to get it done,” Keil said. “My coaches trusted me and I appreciate that. Our offensive line really stepped up. We were struggling a littler earlier in the game, but everybody got their minds right, we stepped up and we got the job done.”
The Bulls started at their own 47 with 25 seconds left, but on the second play of the drive, fumbled the ball on a botched snap. Quarterback Tommy McLaughlin turned his head to listen to an audible from the sideline when the ball was snapped. It was recovered by Wharton with 13 seconds left and the Wildcats ran out the clock.
“I told them I was proud of them,” said Bloomingdale coach John Booth, fighting back tears. “Nobody gave us a shot to even put ourselves in the position to where if we win we're in the playoffs.”
Wharton 8 0 0 22 — 30
Bloom. 7 10 6 0 — 23
B - Crouse 30 pass from McLaughlin (Jose kick)
W - Keil 3 run (Tate pass from Litton)
B - McLaughlin 14 run (Jose kick)
B - FG Jose 40
B - FG Jose 27
B - FG Jose 27
W - Keil 5 run (Litton run)
W - Jefferson 82 punt return (run failed)
W - Keil 3 run (Keil run)