By Jeff Odom
Wharton running back Jeffery Keil made a promise to his offensive line earlier this season: “Give me the blocks to win the game and I’ll feed you a steak dinner.”
The junior, whose father owns a Ruby Tuesday restaurant, said he’ll have to make good on his promise after the Wildcats (7-2, 2-1) clinched consecutive playoff berths with a win 37-20 at home against Alonso Nov. 2.
“My dad might go bankrupt,” Keil joked, when asked about ever giving his five linemen another meal. “I think we might wait until Dr. Phillips to give them (a second) steak. Nice nutritious meal before the playoff game.”
Wharton will travel to Orlando Dr. Phillips for the Class 8A regional quarterfinals, the same squad that knocked the Wildcats out of the postseason in the first round last year.
Wharton coach David Mitchell received the honorary Gatorade bath at the conclusion of the contest and said it felt good knowing his team would be in the playoffs.
“We still got to wait and play Spoto first and then we’ll play whoever we’ve got in front of us,” Mitchell said.
The Wildcats wasted no time against the Ravens (5-4, 1-2) as Vernon Hargreaves set the squad up in prime field position with a 60-yard kickoff return to open the game.
Keil took the reins from there, running five times for 38 yards to give Wharton its first touchdown of the evening just three minutes into the game. He finished with 26 carries for 153 yards and four total scores.
Mitchell said the game plan early was to wear down the Alonso defense with Keil’s speed and ability to break out for big gains.
“When a guy’s hot, you want to give him the rock,” Mitchell said. “We let him do what he’s doing. He had a great game and he does well.”
Hargreaves came up big again by blocking an Alonso punt on the Ravens’ next possession to set the Wildcats up 19 yards from the end zone.
“It was fun,” Hargreaves said. “I play to have fun, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Wharton junior quarterback Chase Litton went deep on second down and found Auden Tate for a 14-yard strike. Keil then earned his second touchdown of the contest, this time from 8 yards out to add to the lead.
The Ravens would add a touchdown of their own before halftime as quarterback Brandon Hawkins hit Derius Davis for a 32-yard pass to cut the lead to seven.
That’s as close as it got for Alonso.
The Wildcats drove the ball 64 yards on 12 plays in the third quarter for another Keil touchdown.
“We came into this game thinking it was a playoff game,” Keil said. “If we win, we move on. If we lose, we go home. That was our mindset.”
The squads traded scores twice in the fourth quarter, before Keil sealed the victory with a 17-yard touchdown reception from Litton.
“Our goal is to be better than last year, make the playoffs and keep winning,” Keil said. “(We can’t) lose the first round and that’s our goal. So, we got to continue that goal and achieve it.”
Wharton hosts Spoto in its final regular season game Nov. 9 before traveling to Dr. Philips Nov. 16. Kickoff for both contests is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.