Wesleyan seniors fight to finish

NORCROSS — When Savannah Christian’s Taylor Ivey intercepted a fourth-down pass from Andrew Frerking and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown with just less than a minute to play, it was apparent that Wesleyan’s 2010 season and march to the Georgia Dome was over.

Senior center and defensive lineman David Andrews came to the sidelines and went to one knee. He seemed more stunned than spent and just began to sob.

The anchor of the Wolves’ line, who like his other senior teammates won 37 or 42 games in three seasons, couldn’t stop the tears from welling up.

As Andrews fought back the tears, fellow senior lineman Cliff Bell came over and just said, “Chin up, brother.”

It was a loss that deprived Wesleyan of a shot at the state title after reeling off three consecutive playoff wins that included a come-from-behind win over defending Class A champion Wilcox County the week before.

Headed to the University of Georgia, Andrews was one of three standouts from Wesleyan’s 2006 state championship year. The other two seniors who also started for the Wolves all three seasons are career rushing leader Kyle Karempelis and linebacker Merritt Hall.

Savannah Christian managed to bottle up Karempelis most of the evening but it was a big gainer on a shuttle pass from Frerking that helped Wesleyan on its fourth-quarter drive that cut the visitors’ lead from 20-6 to 20-13. Karempelis finished the game with just 29 yards on 14 carries and 21 yards on four receptions.

“We gave it our all tonight,” Karempelis said. “We left all of our hopes out there on the field.”

It was all the running back could muster and the same was true of Hall.

“The ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight,” Hall said. “We fought back and our offense did a good job in scoring in the fourth quarter to give us a chance.”

Wesleyan started the game with a text book 80-yard drive for a touchdown with Karempelis taking it in for the score. But a blocked extra point proved to be a harbinger of tough breaks that would be coming Wesleyan’s way.

Savannah Christian built up a 21-6 lead going into the final quarter and though Wesleyan had a drive stall in the red zone, the Wolves began to finally move the ball through the air.

Senior quarterback Frerking seemed to rise to the occasion and evaded a strong pass rush from Savannah Christian to hit receivers Harrison Cheeley, another senior, and junior Malachi Jones with good gainers. On the first deep drive of the final quarter, a fourth down pass across the middle just bounced off the hands of Cheeley deep in the end zone.

After stopping Savannah Christian, Wesleyan got the ball back with just less than five minutes to play. It was a down and out completion and a nifty move by sophomore receiver Rodney Morris that finally got the Wolves on the scoreboard in the second half. Morris caught the ball and faked to the inside before cutting back to the sidelines and raced 40 yards to the end zone.

Then Wesleyan make two more defensive stands late in the game to get the ball back and a chance to go in and perhaps tie the game. The Wolves recovered a fumble at midfield with 2:50 to play, but could not move the ball.

The defense of Wesleyan again rose to the occasion led by Hall and junior Zander Yost. It was Yost who made a jarring tackle on Savannah Christian’s big and fast receiver, Nardo Govan, who earlier had raced 88 yards with a swing pass to get the visitors on the board late in the first quarter. The hit actually forced Yost to leave the game but was indicative of the effort by Wesleyan. An effort sustained until time finally ran out.

And though Frerking was unsuccessful in finishing the comeback, he too left the field with his chin up.

“It’s tough but we all did the very best we could do,” Frerking said. He finished the game with 17 completions in 35 attempts for 187 yards and a touchdown. Frerking threw 26 times in the second half as Wesleyan was forced to abandon a running game that was stifled in the first half by Savannah Christian. Frerking suffered two interceptions but both were in the waning moments as he flung the ball deep on fourth-down plays.

After the game, Wesleyan coach Franklin Pridgen addressed both teams at midfield and led a prayer. He congratulated the winners from Savannah and later consoled his team.

He told his team that he wasn’t prepared to give a consolation speech but for them to hold their heads high and that it had been a great ride.