The Wharton Tigers and El Campo Ricebirds annual River Battle lived up to its namesake Friday night. While the Tigers gave everything they had it was the Ricebirds who landed the final blows to take the 31-13 road win.
Throughout the first half, the two teams battled, trading touchdowns and big plays. While it was a non-district game, both teams played with the fire and energy of a playoff game.
“We felt like we were in pretty good shape at the half,” Wharton Head Coach Chad Bulter said. “Before the half, we had some really bad decisions and we lost our head a little bit.”
El Campo who at one point trailed, went into the half leading by three. The Ricebirds turned things around in the second half and used their pounding style to keep the football away from the Tigers potent aerial attack.
The Ricebirds first two drives ended with fumbles deep inside the red zone, giving the ball to Wharton.
El Campo senior defensive end Deshard Owens gave the Ricebirds their first lead of the game when he forced Tigers senior quarterback Donovan Krushall into a safety.
The Ricebirds wasted no time and scored again after getting the ball right back. After a quick five-play drive, they went up 9-0 after short four-yard Johntre Davis run.
With momentum slowly starting to swing El Campo’s way, Wharton took it right back with a touchdown of their own. After some big runs by junior Keijon Waddell, Wharton moved into the Ricebirds territory. Krushall found senior Joerell Davis on the sideline, who spun free from a Ricebird and run down the sideline into the end zone.
Wharton held El Campo on their next drive and got a big punt return from Davis setting them up on the 30-yard line. Waddell capped finished the drive off with a five-yard run for the score and the lead, a bad extra point but the Tigers led 13-9.
El Campo got the ball back and pounded it left and right, not for many yards but it was efficient enough to keep getting first downs. After nine runs, including converting on a fourth and short, junior Ricebird running back Charles Shorter run the ball up the middle 15-yards for the score and a led El Campo would never give back.
Wharton gave the Ricebirds a scare with just under three minutes left in the half, but El Campo hung on to the lead. The Ricebirds looked like they might get the ball back, after three straight negative plays, including two sacks, but a roughing the kicker on a Wharton punt kept them alive. Krushall made two quick connections to move them to mid-field with 40 seconds left, however, a Wharton penalty wiped out all the progress made and they ran the ball to end the half.
The Ricebirds out of the half pressured Krushall heavily and turned him into a runner for the majority of the rest of the night. Wharton wasn’t able to make enough plays to offset the El Campo rushing attack, which scored twice more in the second half.
“Our guys focused in on what we needed to do,” Ricebirds Head Coach Wayne Condra said. “I thought we came out great. We drove the ball downfield and they got a big turnover. We did some things that slowed us up, but we came back and focused in on what we needed to do and executed.”