Etowah rushed for 300 yards against a unit that had given up just 19 points on the season, and the Eagles rallied in the final minute to win 31-27 at Eagle Stadium in the Region 5AAAAAA opener for both teams.
A 12-yard touchdown pass from Etowah quarterback John Oliver to Ben Rowell with 46 seconds left in the game helped clinch the win.
“I just have to do a better job coaching,” Wheeler coach Mike Collins said. “The kids gave their best effort. We just have to do a better job getting them prepared.”
Brandon Engle led Etowah (2-2, 1-0) with 156 yards on 10 carries and was 2 yards away from scoring a pair of touchdowns. Separate runs of 79 and 52 yards were both stopped at the Wheeler 1-yard line.
Oliver tacked on 78 more yards on 16 carries, while Stanlee Logue and Raishod Devezin both combined for 65 yards, all coming in the second half.
“Wheeler is very aggressive (inside), and we felt like we needed to run on the edge,” Etowah coach Dave Svehla said. “Our running backs did a good job making safeties miss and getting yards after contact.”
It did take Etowah a little while to get going.
Wheeler (3-1, 0-1) had a 13-3 lead midway through the second quarter when the Eagles recovered a muffed punt on the Wheeler 35. Two plays later, Oliver went around the right edge and sprinted down the right sideline for a 35-yard touchdown run.
Both of those plays put Etowah right back into the game, and got its running game on track.
“That was a big play,” Collins said. “We also had trouble with field position (in the first half) and kept giving (Etowah) short fields. I think that was the difference in the ballgame.”
Etowah got a short field on its next drive after forcing Wheeler to punt and starting the next drive from midfield. The drive ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Oliver to Matthew Bowling, giving Etowah its first lead of the game at 17-13 with a minute left in the first half.
The Eagles increased the lead late in the third quarter when Engle’s 52-yard scamper set up a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Oliver into the end zone.
The 11-point Etowah lead forced Wheeler to play with more of a sense of urgency, and the Wildcats turned up their running game. Kahlem Looney, who rushed for 150 yards on 31 carries, scored two unanswered touchdowns — the second coming on fourth-and-goal at the 1, when he dove over the pile to give Wheeler a 27-24 lead.
With 3 minutes remaining in the game, Etowah drove the length of the field to win the game.
Its first two plays netted 26 yards, and a Wheeler penalty gave Etowah another fresh set of downs before an 8-yard burst by Devezin on third-and-2 set up the game-winning touchdown pass from Oliver to Rowell.
The game ended when Wheeler quarterback Elijah Staley attempted a Hail Mary pass on fourth down that fell incomplete.