The Wildcats (1-0) will have to get it done against Pope when the Greyhounds visit Corky Kell Stadium tonight.
“Basically, the way we approach it is to take one game at a time, one day at a time,” Wheeler coach Mike Collins said. “We’ve got to try to improve on a daily basis and that’s the only way we approach.”
The Greyhounds (0-1) are coming off their best season in team history after winning their region and advancing to the Class AAAA state quarterfinals, but they’re still adapting to not having their two offensive playmakers — quarterback Holland Frost and receiver Myles Everett.
Meanwhile, Wheeler is on its way up since its back-to-back winless seasons in 2008 and ’09. Since Mike Collins took the helm in 2010, the Wildcats went from one win to four wins.
Prior to their 10-7 victory over Sprayberry in their season opener, the Wildcats knew they had a strong offensive line that returned four starters, an experienced linebacker corps and a 6-foot-7 quarterback in Elijah Staley, who can both run and throw the football.
While playing Sprayberry, Wheeler discovered a new running back in Kahlim Looney. The senior rushed for 117 yards on 19 carries against the Yellow Jackets, including a 43-yard run on the first drive that set up a Wheeler field goal.
What Wheeler’s offense can ill afford is a rash of penalties. The Wildcats had several drive-killing penalties against Sprayberry, one of which negated a Looney touchdown, and were flagged 13 times for 95 yards.
“Obviously, we made a lot of mistakes in Game 1 that, hopefully, we feel like we corrected,” Collins said. “Maybe we won’t have as many penalties on offense and not as many missed tackles on defense. Those type of things. Those are the things that can get you beat in football games.”
Wheeler is still looking for its offensive touchdown and will be going up against a Pope team that’s returning the majority of its front seven from last season. Linebacker Sean Hatcher, who is coming off a late season shoulder injury, led Pope with 10 tackles.
Offensively, Pope moved the ball in its 27-7 loss to Marietta behind quarterback Stephen Skruck, but drives were often stalled because of mistakes. The Greyhounds put themselves into many third-and-long situations.
The highlight for Pope’s offense was Brooks Climmons rushing for close to 100 yards in one half.
“The thing we’ve been concentrating on is finishing drives offensively,” Pope coach Matt Kemper said. “We have to make sure we don’t get outselves in a down and distance. We don’t have a football team built for that. We need to control the ball and walk it downfield.”