COMMERCE - Quarterback Conor Welton starred in Wesleyan's 33-7 romp over Commerce, throwing 176 yards passing and contributing 23 yards rushing, and it couldn't have come at a better time for his team.
The Wolves move to 6-2 overall, a perfect 4-0 in Region 8-A, and will play for their first region title next week at Athens Academy. Friday's win was their first over Commerce, which outscored Wesleyan 58-25 in games during the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
"We took a huge step forward today ... this win means Wesleyan football has matured," head coach Franklin Pridgen said. "The kids will be ready."
The Tigers (2-5, 1-2) have struggled this season, despite a program rich in playoff history.
After throwing for 92 yards in the second quarter alone, Welton couldn't miss (6-for-6 passing) in the second-half shutout which included three touchdowns, one the junior scored himself on a 1-yard keeper to open the third quarter. The drive was set up by an interception from teammate Davis Brown and a 61-yard gain on Wesleyan's first-down play from Kyle Karempelis.
Karempelis, the team's rushing leader, had another outstanding game, netting 149 yards on 20 carries and 29 yards on four catches. The sophomore running back made it into the end zone twice, opening the game with a 13-yard fourth-down touchdown after the Wolves blocked a Commerce punt and then ending the game with a 15-yard carry.
Despite the consistent contribution this season from Karempelis, Pridgen said the team's use of six receivers and a great game from Welton helped the offense's confidence.
"(Kyle) means everything to the team, but today we showed we aren't one-dimensional," the Wesleyan coach said. "With Conor (Welton) and Brent Pugh, we showed Kyle is important but he's not everything."
Pugh was Wesleyan's leading receiver, hauling in four catches for 32 yards. He was trailed only slightly by Bobby Worthington, who caught three for 38.
The first half was a battle between the two teams. After trading two sets of downs, Karempelis put the Wolves on the board first.
On Commerce's next first down, Deon Orsbone escaped the Wolves defense on a sweep pass to the right and broke free for a 51-yard TD, which tied the game 7-7.
But the Wolves marched down the field again, orchestrating an 8-play, 86-yard drive ending in a Welton five-yard TD. The Wolves took a 14-7 halftime lead they would not relinquish.