“Thank goodness for our defense,” Wheeler coach Mike Collins said. “They were relentless in the second half. Our defensive staff does a great job preaching turnovers. They went out and did what they were supposed to do on the defensive side and I was very excited to see that.”
Elijah Staley threw touchdown passes to Jacobi Green and Emanuel Beal as Wheeler started the season 3-0 for the first time since 1997.
“Anytime you can preach to the guys to do the right thing on and off the field, then they have an opportunity to see themselves do something that hasn’t been done in a long time, it helps you with the buy-in,” Collins said. “So hopefully this success will continue to get them to buy into what we are trying to do.”
After shutting out Pope 33-0 last week, the Wildcats’ defense had to prove itself again but under way more pressure.
With fewer than 2 minutes remaining and the Panthers needing 8 yards on fourth down at Wheeler’s 43-yard line, Elyjah Marrow intercepted Kenny Moxey’s tipped pass before a flag was thrown. But, after a brief discussion, the referees ruled the defender didn’t commit pass interference and Wheeler kept the ball.
On the second play of the ensuing possession, Staley drew the Panthers offside and Kahlem Looney ran for 2 yards and the game-sealing first down since Langston Hughes was out of timeouts.
Earlier in the quarter, after the Panthers closed the margin with an 18-yard touchdown reception from Moxey to Jocques Ross, the Wildcats stripped and recovered a fumble by Trevon Badger.
After JD Barron ended a scoreless tie in the first quarter with a 26-yard field goal, the Wildcats extended their lead to double digits when Staley made a short lateral pass to Green, who slipped a tackle and raced to the end zone for a 42-yard score with 2:39 left in the frame.
Following a pair of field goals by Langston Hughes, Wheeler rebuilt its lead just before halftime when Staley connected on a 26-yard pass to Beal for a 17-6 lead.
“Elijah made some crucial throws in the first half and Beal, Billy Polakowski and Jacobi Green made some great grabs,” Collins said.