Wesleyans' Rodney Morris (8) rushes for a touchdown against Page Academy's James Walsh and Braylin Robinson (20) during Wesleyan Schools Homecomming game Friday in Norcross.
NORCROSS -- Welcome back, Will Anderson.
In his first action since taking a big hit against Elbert County three weeks ago, the Wesleyan starting quarterback quickly showed how much he meant to the Wolves.
Anderson threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter as Wesleyan sprinted out to a 21-0 lead over Pace Academy and rode that early fire to a 44-21 win on Homecoming.
The offensive explosion stands in contrast to Wesleyan's struggles while Anderson recovered from his knee injury and coach Franklin Pridgen made it clear after the game.
"Yes," is all the head coach said when asked if Anderson meant that much to the Wolves' offense.
"He makes us balanced and lets us do what we want to do, running and throwing. We never want to be one-dimensional on offense and you saw why when Will was out. That's a problem."
There were no problems against Pace. Anderson said he felt 100 percent the entire game, even after taking a few hits. He ended his night late in the fourth quarter, leaving with 310 yards on 20 of 32 passing with six touchdowns.
"It feels really great to get our offense back and going, after three weeks of being out," Anderson said.
And he had it going early.
By halftime, Anderson had more than 200 yards passing and only connected on five passes of 15 yards or more. The Wolves' defense forced a punt from Pace on its opening possession and the offense went to work, first with the run. Zander Yost ripped off a 19-yard run, setting up Anderson's three-yard connection for Rodney Morris for the Wolves' first score.
Another punt and a fumble recovery set up two more quick Wolves scores and with more than four minutes left in the first half, Wesleyan led 21-0.
"We had a good game plan," Anderson said. "We just came out passing and made the reads, receivers caught it and it worked out."
"It gave us a spiritual, emotional lift," Pridgen said.
But Pace didn't go away.
The Knights answered with their first touchdown just seconds into the second quarter and cut the Wolves' lead to 24-14 on a 10-yard strike from Kevin Johnson to Kameron Uter. Of Johnson's 13 first-half completions, he found Uter for 10 of them.
The Wolves countered the second Pace score with a quick one-play drive set up by a 58-yard kickoff return by Erik Gossett. Anderson followed, finding Morris on a short pass and letting his receiver do the rest of the work on the 29-yard score. And four minutes later Anderson found Morris again from 15 yards out as the Wolves took advantage of another Pace turnover.
Morris caught nine passes for 114 yards and four scores and Eric Sunderman caught the other two touchdowns and ended the game with a game-high 165 yards on six catches.
"They are both exceptional players," Pridgen said. "If we get them the ball, we see what they can do. I love that little trio right there."
In all seven different players caught passes for the Wolves, and Yost and Gossett kept Pace honest running the ball.
The defense forced five turnovers and two more failed fourth-down conversions, despite succombing at times to the big play.
But Anderson and the offense always had an answer.
"It was one of our best all-around efforts," Pridgen said.