Wesleyan 34, Bowdon 28 (OT)

NORCROSS -- His right knee taped and sore, Conor Welton couldn't be quite as rambunctious during the wild victory celebration as some of his exuberant Wesleyan teammates.

But the injury, caused by a late hit in the second quarter, couldn't stop Welton from being the hero as the unbeaten Wolves stayed alive in their quest for a second straight Class A state championship

"I have faith in my senior quarterback," Wesleyan coach Franklin Pridgen said.

Welton lofted a 14-yard touchdown pass to Harrison Cheeley in the corner of the end zone to give the Wolves a dramatic 34-28 second-round victory over visiting Bowdon on Friday night at Henderson Stadium.

"Right now, I feel more relief than anything," Welton said.

After Bowdon missed a field goal attempt to start overtime, it appeared that Wesleyan would play it cautiously. But Welton had other ideas.

Why not go for it all, rather than settle for a field goal attempt?

"He told me that he thought the fade was there," Pridgen said of the winning pass. "So we decided to go for it."

Cheeley, a junior, went up for the ball and brought it down, touching off a wild celebration involving Wesleyan fans as well as players.

"That's a pass we work on a lot and Conor is getting good at it," Cheeley said. "I'm happy we called it and happier that I could get the ball. It was a great pass."

Top-ranked Wesleyan jumped to a 21-0 lead and it looked like the Wolves were headed for another easy victory. After all, no one had come closer than 25 to them in their first 11 victories.

This game, though, would be different. Very, very different.

No. 10-ranked Bowdon (10-2) struck three times on big plays to hang close and then tied the game as time expired in regulation.

Bowdon quarterback Avery Cheeks scrambled into the end zone from 3 yards out to pull the Red Devils within two points, then hit Seth Key with a pass to tie the game and force overtime.

Could this really be happening?

"We grew up a lot in this game," Pridgen said. "We needed a close game and we certainly got it. You learn a lot about yourself when you have to overcome adversity. It's a character builder."

Welton showed a lot of character. He missed a couple of series, but was there when Wesleyan needed him the most.

"I don't really know what I did to my knee," said Welton, who was knocked into the bench after a second-quarter scramble. "I hope it will be OK."

So do the Wolves, who need Welton badly for their quarterfinal game next weekend.

The Georgia baseball signee completed 7 of 10 passes for 100 yards and two scores, taking a little pressure of workhorse running back Kyle Karempelis.

Karempelis rushed 32 times for 248 yards and scored four TDs, the last on a 17-yard shovel pass from Welton midway in the fourth quarter after Merritt Hall had gained 29 yards on a fake punt to keep the drive alive.

But Bowdon cut the Wesleyan lead to 28-20 on a 95-yard kickoff return by Maricio Askew and then drove 76 yards in the final three minutes to force overtime.

Bowdon used big play after big play to beat Washington-Wilkes 49-35 in the first round and the Red Devils did the same against Wesleyan, which had been nearly impossible to score on previously.

A 56-yard halfback pass by Askew, where Nathan Montgomery took the ball away from a Wesleyan defender, started the second half and cut the Wolves' lead to 21-13 after the extra-point kick was missed.

Wesleyan failed on a field goal attempt on its first possession, but then scored the next three times it had the ball. Karempelis had 177 yards on 18 carries in the first half, scoring on runs of 2, 3 and 19 yards.

The Wolves' first team defense hadn't allowed a TD all season, but the streak ended midway in the second quarter. J.B Stephens got behind the secondary when Bowdon faked a run and hauled in a 61-yard pass from Cheeks.

After Welton was knocked out of the game on the late hit, Wesleyan missed a second field goal attempt and then Bowdon missed one itself as the score remained 21-7 at halftime. The Red Devils also a second field goal attempt in the third quarter.