Wesleyan's Kyle Karempelis (24) moves the ball upfield earlier this season.
How often has the game tape of last year’s quarterfinal loss to Wilcox County been watched by Wesleyan’s players and coaches? More than outsiders can appreciate.
The 20-15 loss ended Wesleyan’s hopes of repeating as Class A state champion, and sparked Wilcox’s own run to the title.
WILCOX COUNTY AT WESLEYAN
Who: Wilcox County Patriots (2-A) at Wesleyan Wolves (5-A)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Wesleyan School (From I-85, take I-285 west to Peachtree Industrial Blvd./Ga. 141 north exit. Veer to the left on Peachtree Parkway/Ga. 141 and turn right on Spalding Drive. School is on the left)
Coaches: Mark Ledford, Wilcox; Franklin Pridgen, Wesleyan
Records: Wilcox 11-1; Wesleyan 11-1
Last week: Wilcox beat Johnson County 60-39; Wesleyan beat Athens Academy 35-14
Winner plays: Lincoln Co.-Savannah Christian winner
Rushing: Kyle Karempelis, 1,581 yards
Passing: Andrew Frerking, 2,039 yards
Receiving: Malachi Jones, 576 yards
Tackles: Drew Widner, 106
Merritt Hall, 88
Interceptions: Erik Gossett, 3
Wilcox County Leaders:
Rushing: Nick Marshall, 612 yards
Passing: Nick Marshall, 2,530 yards
Receiving: Tay Porter, 868 yards
Wilcox County Patriots (11-1)
Miller County W 34-13
at Bleckley County W 35-0
at Clinch County L 33-14
at Lanier County W 46-14
Telfair County W 49-7
at Atkinson County W 40-7
Charlton County W 32-12
Turner County W 49-0
at Bacon County W 47-16
Irwin County W 48-20
Dooly County W 36-14
at Johnson County W 60-39
Seminole Co. W 42-7
at Elbert Co. W 25-23
Twiggs Co. W 33-0
Holy Innocents’ W 24-10
at Fellowship Christian W 63-6
at Pace Academy W 48-14
Kings Ridge W 49-6
at Pincrest Academy W 50-7
Mt. Pisgah W 41-0
ELCA L 35-28
Warren Co. W 48-13
Athens Academy W 35-14
“We have looked back and watched the film, ad nauseam,” Wesleyan head coach Franklin Pridgen said. “And what we found out was that we were a couple of plays away from winning the ball game.”
The last two state champions will go another round Friday on the same field at Wesleyan where they met 364 days earlier. It’s the state quarterfinals again and both teams return plenty of talent — Wilcox (11-1) is ranked second in the state and Wesleyan (11-1) is fifth.
It’s one of the rare occasions this season where the Wolves don’t enter as the favorite.
“I don’t need to dwell on (what happened last year) anymore, everybody knows,” Pridgen said. “For the first time in a long time, we’ll be decided underdogs. They’re No. 2 in the state, the defending state champions. And they should be favored. And our kids really like that. We’re returning to our roots as underdogs.”
That said, Wesleyan’s pretty good for an underdog. The Wolves are 36-4 the past three seasons, reaching at least the quarterfinals for the third straight year.
They returned a veteran team anchored by two-way lineman David Andrews, a Georgia commitment, and record-setting running back Kyle Karempelis. Merritt Hall, Drew Widner and Brinson Porter anchor a good defensive group.
Those guys are out to avenge a quarterfinal loss from a year ago that resulted from three uncharacteristic turnovers. Wesleyan also botched key fourth-down conversions and suffered some dropped passes.
“We’ve got to make those plays if we want to win this time,” Pridgen said.
Wesleyan also has a healthy, more settled quarterback to face Wilcox. Senior Conor Welton played for a half in last year’s quarterfinal on a torn ACL in his knee, but had to shut it down at halftime. That brought in junior Andrew Frerking for his first test in a big game, with plenty on the line.
Frerking didn’t play his best in that loss, but Wilcox will see a different quarterback this year. The senior has thrown for 2,039 yards and a school-record 31 touchdowns to complement Karempelis’ 1,581 rushing yards.
“He’s a different kid now,” Pridgen said of Frerking’s development. “He’s reading faster. He’s throwing sharper. It’s all about his confidence, the intangibles. He’s a lot more confident.”
Frerking’s counterpart at quarterback Friday is more well known.
Wilcox senior Nick Marshall, a UGA commitment, is a football and basketball star who triggers an offense that averages 40.8 points. Since the team’s only loss to Clinch County, the offense is averaging 45.2 points, including 60 in last week’s second-round win at Johnson County.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder has completed 123 of 228 passes (53.9 percent) for 2,530 yards and 38 TDs with 14 interceptions. He also leads the team with 612 rushing yards and nine scores.
Tay Porter (868 receiving yards, 11 TDs) and Mahogany Quez (nine TDs) are his favorite targets.
“Nick Marshall is even more dangerous this year than last year because I think he’s more willing to run it, rather than just sit back there and throw it,” Pridgen said.