A standout on Wheeler’s better-known basketball team, Elijah Staley already has several Division 1 offers. It won’t be long before football programs are beating down his door, too.
The 6-foot-7 quarterback threw two touchdown passes to Emanuel Beal, and the Wheeler defense flexed it muscle as the Wildcats rolled to an impressive 33-0 victory against Pope (0-2) on Friday. The Wildcats are 2-0 for the first time since 1997 when they advanced to the state quarterfinals. After the defense preserved the shutout with a goal-line stand, Wheeler fans stormed the field as if the Wildcats had qualified for the playoffs, which they haven’t done since 2006. With a solid play up front, explosive players at the skill position, Wheeler could make a return.
“First and foremost, the defense is playing as a unit; we’re playing good, physical football,” coach Mike Collins said. “And we had good pass protection, and that allowed our athletes to make big-time plays tonight.”
Wheeler’s biggest athlete easily is Staley, who finished the game 11-of-17 for 221 yards. On his first touchdown, the junior quarterback evaded pressure, stepped up in the pocket and threw the ball 50 yards to Beal, who had sneaked behind the defense. “It was a great individual effort by both guys,” Collins said. That 62- yard touchdown gave the Wildcats a 9-0 lead late the first quarter. Later in the half, Staley threw another deep ball to Beal for a 51-yard score and a 19-0 cushion.
Staley, who also started on last year’s 4-6 team, is showing more poise and leadership and making good decisions, Collins said. “He’s a really good football player and he’s getting better week in and week out,” the coach said. “He’s going to have a great deal of success any direction he chooses to go in.”
Wheeler continued its domination in the second half. Allen Artis blocked a Pope punt, and Maleek Catchings recovered in the end zone to make it 26-0. The Wildcats’ final score came on a pretty, cutback 64-yard run by Kahlem Looney.
Rocking back in his chair and soaking up the victory, Collins said he and the team will enjoy the victory for 24 hours and then move on to the next game and look toward region competition. At Wheeler, where the basketball team has won several state titles, the expectations are high, but Collins, in his third season, isn’t thinking about that. “We’ve left our footprints in the sand, but the real work has not begun. We’re just trying to be the best we can be on a daily basis.”
Wheeler – 9 – 10 – 14 – 0 – 33
Pope – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0
W – JD Barron 37 FG
W -Emanuel Beal 62 pass from Elijah Staley (kick missed)
W – Barron 25 FG
W – Beal 51 pass from Staley (Barron kick)
W – Maleek Catchings recovered blocked punt in end zone (Barron kick)
W – Kahlim Looney 64 run (Barron kick)