The Panthers tamed the Wildcats 37-28, delivering Wheeler its first loss of the 2013 campaign.
The tempo of Langston Hughes was something Wildcats coach Mike Collins said he had planned for, and thought it took his players the entire first half to finally catch up.
“I thought it took us a minute to get used to the speed of the game, and that was one of my concerns,” he said.
Trailing 27-7 at the half, Wheeler tried to to get back into the game.
The Wildcats scored on the opening drive of the half thanks to an Elijah Staley 40-yard touchdown to Devontae Jackson on a screen pass.
Trailing 34-14, Wheeler went on a 17-play drive that came up empty. The Wildcats fumbled on the 1 and Langston Hughes took over. But after gaining only 1 yard on the ensuing drive, and then having a 4-yard punt, Wheeler took over at the Panthers 5.
Two plays later Staley connected with Tabius Padgett for a 7-yard touchdown pass to pull the Wildcats within 34-21.
An interception on the next Langston Hughes possession led to Staley connecting with Jackson again – this time on a screen pass that went for a 34-yard touchdown and Wheeler was back in the game at 34-28.
Staley finished 20-of-36 for 307 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His main target was Jackson who compiled 148 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns (one rushing and two receiving).
But Langston Hughes took Wheeler’s second-half comeback in stride as it maintained the lead and made enough timely plays when it had to. Most of that can be attributed to the play of Keion Davis who finished with 22 carries for 226 yards and two scores.
A 7-yard touchdown run by Jackson knotted the game at 7-7 with just seconds remaining in the first quarter. Langston Hughes would answer with a 10-play, 78-yard drive that was capped off by a Kinan Humphrey 36-yard touchdown pass to Kenyan Houston.
The Wildcats would surrender 20 unanswered points in all during the first half including a fumble by Jacobi Green inside the 1 yard line on a kickoff that the Panthers would recover and take into the end zone.