Reeves Johnson limped off the field late in the first quarter in Etowah’s 20-17 overtime loss to Pope last Friday with what appeared to be a leg injury. Coach Dave Svehla said he won’t get into specifics until he has the facts, but it has been revealed that Johnson will not be the starter when the undefeated Wildcats visit Eagle Stadium tonight for the Region 5AAAAAA opener for both teams.
Robbie Knox, who took over last week when Johnson got injured, will likely start at quarterback. If so, he will face a speedy Wheeler defense that’s known to force turnovers and taking advantage by scoring points.
Coming off a 17-12 victory over Langston Hughes last week, Wheeler nearly lost its lead late in the fourth quarter, when the Panthers were moving the ball, but before Elyjah Marrow came through with an interception to put the Wildcats in position to win.
This is also the same defense that shutout Pope 33-0 two weeks ago, stopping the Greyhounds twice inside the Wheeler 5-yard line in the process.
Against Sprayberry in the season opener, it was Allen Artis’ interception return for a touchdown that sealed a 10-7 win over the Yellow Jackets.
“Wheeler has an athletic aggressive defense that seeks to pressure offenses into mistakes,” Svehla said. “They have speed up front and at the linebacker positions that allow them to run to the ball. We have not been very efficient offensively, so that makes Wheeler a tremendous challenge for us.
Svehla said the key to success offensively is getting the Eagles into short-yardage situations and converting those chances. It hasn’t been a strength during the first three games but much, emphasis is being spent this week in improving in that area.
The Eagles are also working to improve their running game. Svehla said the more clock they chew, the better chance they have in tiring Wheeler’s defense and keeping the balls out of the hands of quarterback Elijah Staley.
Etowah is also working on ways to get split end John Oliver and tight end Bryce Coroi more involved. Both players are playing well as of late.
“Defensively, we want to make (Etowah) drive the field and not give them a short field,” Wheeler coach Mike Collins said. “We also have to tackle well and line up well so we can give our guys the football.”
Wheeler has been known to make plays offensively. Staley had two lengthy touchdown passes to Emanuel Beal against Pope that set the tone of the game. Staley had two more touchdown passes against Langston Hughes before finishing with 151 yards, and he scrambled for a first down in the late stages of the fourth quarter to win it.
More importantly, Wheeler’s offensive game plan is similar to Etowah’s. The Wildcats want to establish the run behind Kahlem Looney.
“Wheeler’s got some athleticism on the edge and a quarterback that can throw it or run it,” Svehla said. We’re going to give up yards defensively but the key is to not give explosive plays and make them run a lot of plays to score.
“Short scoring drives are momentum killers for a defense, and we need to prevent those.”