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Wesleyan 28, Commerce 3

NORCROSS - Wesleyan is in some prestigious company and that isn't just because of its state championship a year ago.

Before this season, only three Gwinnett schools had football winning streaks of 20 or more games. Now make that four.

Wesleyan joined Buford, Parkview and Brookwood, achieving the milestone with a 28-3 Region 8-A victory over visiting Commerce on Friday night in the mud at Henderson Stadium.

"I'll definitely take it," Wolves quarterback Conor Welton.

"That is a great group to be a part of for sure."

Wesleyan's present streak pales in comparison to the 47 games in a row that Buford won from 2001 to 2004 or Parkview's streak of 46 straight in 2000-2003.

But a second straight Class A state championship would push the Wolves past Brookwood's streak of 26 in 1996-97.

No. 1-ranked Wesleyan, 8-0 overall and 4-0 in Region 8-A, has outscored its opponents 322-18 this season and hadn't trailed until Commerce took a 3-0 halftime lead.

"We were hoping to get a good test and we got it, from Commerce," Welton said.

"I was pleased with the way we responded in the second half," Wesleyan coach Franklin Pridgen said. "But we made way too many mistakes in the first half."

While the Wolves defense shut down Commerce (3-4, 2-1), the Wesleyan offense finally got on track.

Welton threw two touchdowns passes in the third quarter after Commerce breakdowns trying to punt and Kyle Karempelis scored twice on short runs in the fourth quarter to break the game open.

Welton was intercepted twice, just his second and third of the season. But he completed 13 of 21 passes for 142 yards. Harrison Cheeley caught a 10-yard TD midway in the third quarter to put Wesleyan ahead and Devin Stanton grabbed a 12-yarder less than three minutes later.

The scores came after Commerce turned the ball over at the 26 and the 22 in punting situations, both times fumbling snaps.

Karempelis had trouble getting traction in the mud, but he broke off a 43-yard run to help set up Wesleyan's third TD, which he scored from the 3 early in the fourth quarter. He added a 1-yarder in the closing minute for his 16th rushing TD of the season.

The tough Wesleyan defense held Commerce standout Deon Brock to 85 yards on 18 carries. Like Karempelis, who had 93 yards on 15 rushes, Brock had trouble getting going in the muck.

"The mud was really deep," Welton said. "It definitely bothered both teams."

But it is hard to move against the Wesleyan defense, no matter what the conditions. The Wolves were again led by linebackers Bobby Fulton, Merritt Hall and Carter Garrison, as well as free safety Stanton. Strong safety Anderson Porter had to leave the game in the second quarter with an arm injury and Stanton played with a gimpy leg.

Wesleyan's streak is part of a stunning turnaround. The Wolves started last season 1-2 and had lost six of nine games dating to the previous season.

Now Wesleyan has added eight consecutive wins to its 12-game streak to end last season and is two more victories away from completing its first unbeaten regular season.

The Wolves host Athens Academy next Friday, then play at Athens Christian on Oct. 30. The victory over Commerce left Wesleyan as the only unbeaten team in Region 8-A.

Commerce, taking advantage of a big break on a blocked punt, led at halftime on Josh Streetman's 20-yard field goal with six seconds left. The Tigers had the ball for all except four plays in the second quarter, turning what looked like disaster into a lengthy, time-consuming drive.

Wesleyan, which had missed a short field goal attempt to start the quarter, blocked a Commerce punt. But the Tigers got the ball back at their 19 when it hit off a Wolves player was was past the line of scrimmage.

After an exchange of penalties, Brock broke off a 22-yard run to key the drive and Cody Streetman completed a 10-yard pass on fourth down to move the ball to the Wesleyan 13. Three runs left the Tigers a yard short and Streetman's knuckleball kick floated through to put Wesleyan behind for the first time this season.

"Commerce had a good game plan and gave us a battle," Pridgen said. "This was a good test for us and we'll learn from it."