Battle-tested Wolves face must-win game

File Photo Wesleyan's Erik Gossett runs the ball during a game last season for the Wolves.

File Photo Wesleyan's Erik Gossett runs the ball during a game last season for the Wolves.

Needing a win to keep the season going, that's nothing new for Wesleyan's football program.

The Wolves are seasoned after three straight years of deep playoff runs, starting with their state championship season in 2008. They're hoping that experience pays off tonight in a must-win situation -- the Region 5-A play-in game against visiting Landmark Christian.

The winner moves on to the state playoffs, while the loser's season is done.

"Obviously, having that playoff experience is huge," Wesleyan head coach Franklin Pridgen said. "We played 14 games last year, 13 the year before that and 15 the year before that. These kids have a lot of football in them. You hear the college coaches who like the bowl games for the extra practice time and certainly that has benefited us a lot."

Wesleyan (7-2) has 14 seniors on the roster for what could be their final high school home game. They've been a part of several impressive seasons during their careers already, and guys like Zander Yost, Eric Rappe, Josh King, Erik Gossett and Jamie Stark have played major roles in the past.

Other Wesleyan seniors are new to starting roles, after playing behind last year's talented senior class that led the team to the Class A semifinals. Those new contributors, as well as the seniors with more experience, are eager to begin their own playoff run. Eric Sunderman, Andrew Farrell, Matt Macia, Mason Colquitt, Michael McWhinnie, Will Moody, Fendall Laughlin, Barry Sutlive and Alex Raabe also are in that senior group.

"Our seniors are very capable kids who think it's their turn," Pridgen said. "It's their turn to show everybody what they can do. They want to make their own identity, their own mark that's not about Kyle Karempelis, Merritt Hall or David Andrews (three 2011 Wesleyan grads now on the Georgia Bulldogs' roster). They love those guys, but they played behind them for three years."

The Wolves' next task is a Landmark team with plenty of playoff tradition itself. The War Eagles missed the postseason in 2010, but were in the playoffs the previous 10 seasons.

They're back at a high level this season with a 7-2 mark, a high-scoring offense and a huge line of scrimmage. Quarterback Cantrell Frazier and wideout Josh Nobles are the team's top two playmakers.

"We're giving up a ton (in weight)," Pridgen said. "Our biggest guy is 240."

An upset loss to First Presbyterian turned Landmark into a surprise No. 3 seed from 5-A South. Wesleyan, which suffered its only subregion loss to Holy Innocents', earned the No. 2 spot from 5-A North, which brought one more home game.

"Our kids are very excited about (the home game) because we earned it," Pridgen said. "They want to wear their black jerseys. They want to make it into a playoff feel because that's what it is, the winner's in and the loser's out."

That's a scenario these Wolves know well.