Wheeler (3-2, 0-2) posted strong wins over Sprayberry, Pope and Langston Hughes prior to the start of region play. However, back-to-back losses to Etowah and Milton have the Wildcats working hard to end the skid that could cost them a successful season.
Meanwhile, Roswell (1-4, 0-2) exploded for a 42-13 season-opening victory against Centennial, but has since dropped four consecutive games, including the last two against region opponents Milton and Etowah.
Wheeler coach Michael Collins said he and his team understand the urgency that’s needed in tonight’s game.
“That’s what we’ve been preaching to them this week, and we hope they’re able to respond,” he said. “Being 0-2 in the region, our backs are against the ball, and we have to come out fighting. Roswell is in a similar situation. They’re desperate. We both have to win.”
For Wheeler, winning starts with decreasing its mistakes. The Wildcats made several first-quarter miscues on special teams in its loss to Milton last week. The result was a 17-0 deficit heading into the second quarter.
“This past Friday was an episode of mistakes,” Collins said. “That’s a fast turn of events when you give up 17 points on special teams. Just like that, we were down by three scores. It was a fast hole, and we just couldn’t get out of it.
“We’ve put some extra time into special teams this week and we hope for a better result. But we still worked on everything to take care of the little details and to stay sharp.”
The remedy for Wheeler is to be the team on the other side of that hole, and given Roswell’s propensity to give up points — the Hornets are allowing 29.6 points per game — the Wildcats will have to counter Roswell’s physical play with a similar style.
Collins, though, understands where Roswell is as it mentality relates to wins. So, taking the action to the Hornets right from the start is just part of the game plan.
“We need to go at them because they’re a physical team, especially up front,” he said. “They’re similar to Etowah (which Wheeler lost to 31-27 two weeks ago) in that they like to run the ball. They run out of the I-formation a lot, and they have a great running back.
“They’re quarterback is dangerous too, so you can’t be fooled. They’re still balanced enough that he can throw the ball and catch you off guard if you’re not paying attention.
Defensively, they’re fast, athletic and they make you earn the yards you get. It’s a 4-3 base formation with multiple fronts, so it makes you think. They’re a disciplined group on defense and they get to the right spot.”
Collins expects his team won’t overlook Roswell simply because they have a losing record. The Hornets are just two years removed from a seven-win season and shared the Class AAAAA state championship in 2006.
“(Roswell) has a rich tradition of winning,” Collins said. “They’re a difficult team to go through to win a region championship. It will be a hostile environment for sure.”