Quarterback Elijah Staley ran for 53 yards and two touchdowns, and JD Barron drilled a 49-yard field goal with less than 5 minutes to play as the Wildcats held off Roswell at Ray Manus Stadium, 17-14.
“I’m just so happy for our guys,” Wheeler coach Mike Collins said. “I’m proud of them, coming off a two-game slide to find a way to fight here at Roswell and get a victory.”
Roswell (1-5, 0-3 in Region 5AAAAAA) erased a 14-point deficit in the second half by capitalizing on a pair of Wheeler turnovers on consecutive possessions. But on the ensuing drive, Collins dialed up a double pass for a big gain, as senior Kyonte Maxwell laid out to haul in a 32-yard pass from Jacobi Green to bring the Wildcats within field goal range.
Three plays later, Barron stepped in and connected on the longest field goal of his career to put the visitors ahead for good with 4:36 left in the fourth quarter.
“He asked for it,” Collins said of his kicker. “He stepped up with confidence and said, ‘Coach, I got it,’ and he went out there with no hesitation and pulled through (Friday). I’m proud of him.”
Wheeler (4-2, 1-2) used its speed to stretch out the Roswell defense early on, peppering the Hornets with sweeps and wide running plays to get to the edge. Maxwell finished with 74 yards on 19 carries to lead the Wildcats’ offense on the ground in addition to his critical reception.
“They want to spread you out and let their cats run,” Roswell coach Justin Sanderson said. “Their quarterback’s a big joker, and (Maxwell), we knew he was fast, but he’s a lot faster in person than I thought he was.”
Staley used his legs to turn a broken play into the game’s first score, reversing field on a well-defended option run to find a convoy of blockers downfield and dive for the pylon to cap off a 16-yard run.
Then with time winding down in the first half, the Wildcats put together a 64-yard drive to extend their lead to double digits. Staley connected with Emanuel Beal on a 43-yard pass that brought the Wildcats inside the 5-yard line and found the end zone himself for a second time, stretching out over the pile for a 1-yard touchdown run with 4 seconds before the break.
An interception by Grant Beidel and a fumble recovery by Davonte Hill set the Hornets up for two quick scoring drives in succession in the second half. Backup quarterback Matt Cory hit John Albert with a fade to the back corner of the end zone as the third quarter wound down, and then running back Andrew Kwateng punched in a 2-yard touchdown to bring the Hornets level with 6:54 to play in the game.