By Matt Mauney | Associate Editor
TAMPA — On the last play of the third quarter, Zach Hooper returned a Wharton punt 80 yards down to the Wharton 9-yard-line.
“I just saw the hole that came open and I took it,” said the senior. “I knew our offense just needed a spark.”
That “spark” set up an eventual 6-yard touchdown run by Cris Atkins as Durant (4-0) defeated Wharton (3-1) Friday on the road, 13-12.
“I told the kids that this game was going to come down to heart and who wanted it more,” Durant head coach Mike Gottman said after the win. “We came out a little flat in the third quarter, but we made the plays when we needed to late in the game. This is a good win for us.”
The game wasn’t typical for the Cougars, as their offense was contained most of the night other than a few long runs in the first half by senior Jamarlon Hamilton. Durant’s offense stalled on their first possession, leading to a fumble on a punt, setting up the Wildcats on the Durant 22-yard-line. The Durant defense would come up big, recovering a fumble of their own to gain back possession.
It was one of four turnovers the Durant defense forced on the night. Terry Grimsley was responsible for the second take away, as he intercepted the Wildcats and returned it for the game’s first score.
“That was a huge play for us,” Gottman said.
The final two takeaways sealed things, as Zach Hoffman stripped the ball on Wildcat drive late in the game, down by one, followed by an interception on the last play of the game on a desperation hail mary pass by Wharton.
Wharton’s Keith Hopkins scored the Wildcats first points of the game on a 13-yard run in the second quarter. That was the first points allowed by the Durant defense since the season opener against Freedom. Wharton would score again in the third quarter on a swing pass to Deon Sampson that was taken 56 yards, but a two-point conversion attempt after an unsportsmanlike penalty was no good, giving the Wildcats just a six-point lead going into the fourth.
Durant will return home next week as as they face city rival Plant City. The Raiders (3-1) were off this week.