Trailing Etowah and Woodstock by one game in the Region 5AAAAAA standings, a win for Wheeler (5-4, 2-4) would keep its hopes of making the state playoffs for the first time since 2006 alive.
For that to happen, not only would the Wildcats have to beat Cherokee, but Etowah and Woodstock would have to lose their regular-season finales.
Rather than dwell on playoff possibilities, Wheeler coach Mike Collins is trying to focus solely on Friday’s contest against Cherokee.
“We are preparing to play the best game that we can play against Cherokee, because they are going to come out and play us very hard,” said Collins, a former Cherokee player and later an assistant under former Warriors coach Brian Dameron.
Though it may not be vying for a playoff berth, Cherokee (1-8, 0-6) is still hoping to meet the very first goal coach Josh Shaw set at the beginning of the year — improve upon last year’s record.
A victory Friday would do just that, as the Warriors managed only one win in 2011.
A win would also send the seniors, who have only seen nine wins in the last four years, out on what Shaw feels is a deserved high note.
“I want our seniors to understand that they are laying the foundation and the bricks for our future, and because of that, I think that it would be special for them to go out with a win,” Shaw said. “We’ve got a very, very special group of seniors on the team, and they deserve a win, so were going to try and get that for them.”
Collins will be treading lightly Friday night.
“A team like Cherokee is going to be very dangerous and very hungry this time of year,” he said. “You can go ahead and throw the records out of the window. Any time that you go to Tommy Baker Field at this time of year, you’re going to find a hostile environment.”
Complicating Collins’ task of defeating the Warriors is the possible return of Cherokee quarterback Spencer Ashley, who missed the last two games due to a sprained ankle he suffered in the first quarter against Etowah three weeks ago.
Not only has Ashley shown the ability to escape pressure and make plays on the run, he set Cherokee’s single-game record for passing yards earlier in the year with 307 against North Forsyth.
With Ashley under center, the Warriors’ spread offense, which has struggled to score points in the last half of the season, will likely present more of a challenge.
“Spencer is a multiple-threat quarterback with a great arm, and he has some weapons that he can throw to,” Collins said.
Against the spread, Collins feels that it is necessary for his players to understand exactly where they are supposed to be for the Wildcat’s defense to find success.
“With their spread offense, it will force us to cover the whole field, so it is going to be more about our players knowing their responsibility more than anything else,” Collins said. “If we don’t know where we need to be, they will hurt us.”