NORCROSS - Wesleyan hitched its wagon to sophomore running back Kyle Karempelis and eventually put away a gutsy Warren County squad 42-19 in the first round of the Class A state playoffs Friday.
Karempelis ran for 210 yards on 23 carries and scored four of Wesleyan's five offensive touchdowns as the Wolves survived to move on to next week's second-round matchup with Holy Innocents'.
But don't be deceived by the 23-point margin of victory because Wesleyan (9-2) didn't pull away from Warren County (4-7) until midway through the fourth quarter with a pair of TDs just over a minute apart.
Leading 28-19 heading into the fourth quarter and unable to put away an opponent with just 20 players dressed out for the game, Wesleyan finally got the daylight it was looking for.
Karempelis scored his fourth TD of the night from 26 yards out and then Daniel Cardwell picked off Warren County quarterback Tay Erwin and returned it 30 yards as the Wolves finally put some distance between themselves and the Screaming Devils.
"Any time you come out of an off week you're concerned that you might be a little rusty and you might be prone to some mistakes that you otherwise wouldn't make," said Wesleyan head coach Franklin Pridgen. "We had a lot of momentum going into the off week and, quite candidly, my biggest concern was we have trouble recapturing that - and I think we did.
"But give a lot of credit to Warren County because those guys came to play. They were extremely athletic and extremely fast and Coach (Lee) Hutto did a great job coaching them up. I thought we did what we had to do to win the game."
And it was Warren County - the No. 4 seed out of Region 7-A - which actually took the first lead of the game after Wesleyan muffed a punt. Five plays later, Kentrell Latimore scored from 15 yards out and suddenly, the Screaming Devils had the early 7-0 lead.
But Wesleyan never panicked and tied the game at 7-7 just 2 minutes later on the first of Karempelis' four TDs - this one from 34 yards away.
Then, the Wolves took the lead for good late in the first quarter when Karempelis got loose from 16 yards out.
Twice, however, Warren County cut into Wesleyan's lead, pulling to 14-13 midway through the second quarter on Colby Reynolds' 55-yard run and the as close as 21-19 early in the third quarter on Antonio Benton's 7-yard score.
Wesleyan always had the answer, however - primarily with Karempelis and junior quarterback Conor Welton, who connected on 8 of 16 passes for 104 yards. That enabled the Wolves to rack up 360 yards of total offense and 21 first downs.
Drew Carroll added the other Wesleyan TD on a 3-yard burst late in the third quarter.