An improving Wildcats squad may be ready to end that streak as they host the Raiders in a battle of Region 5AAAAAA and east Cobb teams tonight at Corky Kell Stadium.
Wheeler (4-2, 1-2) has come a long way in the revitalization of its program the last few years under coach Mike Collins.
As a result, the Wildcats appear to have a chance of ending their five-game losing streak to Raiders and taking their first win over their east Cobb rival since 2006. The Raiders have won 13 of the last 14 contests between the two squads.
For Collins, the Walton game is an important litmus test for his team.
“I look at it as an incredible opportunity to play a great program, a well-established program, like Walton,” Collins said. “It will be a good test for us and we look forward to the challenge.”
Walton coach Rocky Hildalgo acknowledges it will be a stronger Wheeler squad that his Raiders will face this time around.
“Wheeler is a much improved football team,” Hildalgo said. “Coach Collins has his kids play really, really hard on both offense and defense.”
It is also a crucial region game for Wheeler, which would stay in the thick of the state playoff race with a win and would see its postseason hopes take a big hit with a loss.
“It’s a big region game,” Collins said. “All region games are very big and all of them are make or break. We treat all region games as important and this one is important for us,”
Both teams are coming off of bye weeks, which Collins said was beneficial for his Wildcats.
“It gave us an opportunity to work on fundamentals and heal up, since we’re a little banged up,” Collins said.
Having a week off was also important for Hildalgo, whose team has dealt with a number of injuries to key players like Cobb County’s leading rusher Tyren Jones (dislocated wrist), who has already run for 1,313 yards and 13 touchdowns, and quarterback Parker McLeod (ankle sprain).
“We have a lot of kids banged up,” Hildago said. “Most of them are long-term injuries, but we have a couple of guys with nagging injuries, so having a week off helped with that.”
Walton (4-2, 2-1) hopes to bounce back from a
21-9 loss to Lassiter two weeks ago, while Wheeler will try to continue the momentum it built from a 17-14 win over Roswell that snapped a two-game losing streak.
A victory for the Raiders would put them back on track for at least a home playoff game. A win by the Wildcats could make the race for the final two playoff spots wide open adding Etowah and Woodstock to the mix.
With McLeod having been out of the lineup with his ankle injury, more of the offensive load has been assumed by Jones, who rushed for 187 yards in Walton’s loss to the Trojans.
Even with Walton’s injuries, Collins still expects a tough battle from the Raiders
“They have a great offensive line, one of the best in the state,” Collins said. “They have a great back in Tyren Jones, so they have an incredible running game. They also throw the ball very well. Defensively, they’re very strong. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”
Walton will have to contain a fast and athletic Wheeler squad, with quarterback Elijah Staley and running back Kahlem Looney the key playmakers for the Wildcats.