The Wildcats put it together in all three phases of the game, routing the Greyhounds 33-0 at Corky Kell Stadium, and they’re 2-0 on the season for the first time since 1997.
While Wheeler was shaky at times in its season-opening win over Sprayberry two weeks ago, it played more disciplined football against Pope (0-2).
The Wildcats cut their penalties by more than half, losing just 21 yards, compared to 100 two weeks ago. The defense also kept Pope off the scoreboard, stuffing the Greyhounds twice inside their 5-yard line. And, after Wheeler failed to score an offensive touchdown against Sprayberry, it produced three against Pope.
“I’m proud of them and proud of their effort,” Wheeler coach Mike Collins said. “Our defense played sound and physical football. Offensively, we had some good plays. I’m proud of our guys. They are excited. They should be. They are proud of themselves. They put in a lot of hard work over last two offseasons.”
Quarterback Elijah Staley ignited the offense in the first half with touchdown passes of 62 and 51 yards to Emanuel Beal. Staley finished the game with 207 passing yards.
Wheeler capped its scoring midway through the third quarter, when Kahlem Looney broke through the line of scrimmage for a 64-yard touchdown run. Looney finished with 109 yards on 12 carries.
The Wildcats were going up against a Pope defense with experience in the front seven, and it looked as if the Greyhounds were going to wage a defensive battle until Staley hooked up with Beal down the left sideline for the 61-yard touchdown with 9 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
“We were in need of a big play on offense,” Collins said. “I felt like, if we can get a big play, it would give them some confidence. That play was two good football players making a play for their team. It gave us confidence on both sides of the ball and kind of got the ball rolling.”
After Wheeler converted a 25-yard field goal on its next drive early in the second quarter, Pope played with a sense of urgency and produced its best drive of the game.
Brooks Climmons, who finished with 69 yards on 16 carries, found holes, and quarterback Stephen Skruck converted two clutch passes of 14 and 26 yards. Skruck’s 26-yard pass to Carson Day brought Pope further into Wheeler territory at the 23, and Climmons bruised his way down to the 2 before a Wheeler penalty put the ball on the 1.
On third-and-goal, with two chances to get into the end zone, Wheeler’s defense held Climmons for no yardage and Skruck tried scrambling right on fourth down but was stopped for a loss by Adrian Morris and Allen Artis.
Pope needed one stop with less than a minute left in the half to stay in the game, but Wheeler struck again when Staley and Beal connected again for 51 yards.
Wheeler dashed Pope’s hopes of a comeback early in the third, when Artis blocked a punt and Maleek Catchings scooped it up for a 10-yard touchdown run.
Pope had no difficulty moving the ball offensively — the Greyhounds produced 280 yards and didn’t turn the ball over. They just couldn’t produce the big plays to keep up with Wheeler.
“Obviously we’re playing some (Class AAAAAA) football teams starting out, and that’s the curse of winning a region title last year,” Pope coach Matt Kemper said. “We obviously have things to work on, and we’ll do that. Our football comes later in the season. We don’t start playing games that count until Week 6.”