Wheeler's 6 touchdowns lead West Mifflin past Elizabeth Forward
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Only Jimmy Wheeler could call this a below-average night.
West Mifflin's star senior rushed 30 times for 257 yards and six touchdowns in Thursday night's 40-16 victory over Big Nine host Elizabeth Forward in a game delayed nearly two hours by lightning.
His touchdowns covered 10, 15, 3, 50, 7 and 34 yards.
Wheeler scored three times in the third quarter when West Mifflin turned the score lopsided. Two came just 24 seconds apart.
Well, only if you consider that Wheeler entered averaging 262 yards. The WPIAL's rushing leader has been just that good. Wheeler's on pace to challenge the WPIAL's regular-season rushing mark of 2,149 set by Steel Valley's Delrece Williams in 2010. Wheeler has 1,569.
This was the second straight game that Wheeler scored six touchdowns.
“This feels real special,” said Wheeler, who dismissed the record chase. “I just want to take my team back to Heinz (Field) and win.”
The victory keeps No. 3-ranked West Mifflin (6-0, 6-0) undefeated and atop the conference standings, just ahead of No. 2 Thomas Jefferson (5-0, 4-0). The rivals won't meet until Week 9 at West Mifflin.
No. 6 Elizabeth Forward (4-2, 4-2) has now lost decisively to both West Mifflin and Thomas Jefferson (42-0 in Week 2), but the Warriors remain solidly in the playoff hunt. Five teams from the conference qualify.
Elizabeth Forward's JaQuan Davidson rushed for 169 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown in the fourth, but also threw three interceptions. Earlier Thursday, the senior committed to Pitt.
“We came out pretty good, but everything dropped down after the (lightning) delay,” Davidson said. “I wish that had never happened because we had momentum. After the crowd left, (our energy) dropped.”
Lightning halted play with 9:50 left in the second quarter. West Mifflin was leading, 7-0. The teams took shelter for an hour and 50 minutes. Each time lightning flashed, 30 minutes was added to their wait.
“I was in here kind of mad,” Wheeler said, “asking why can't we start this? I was pumped.”
Had the lighting lasted much longer, the game would have been postponed until Friday.
“You have to give (our players) a lot of credit,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “You always worry about (a delay). You even worry about halftime if you had a good first half. But they wanted to play tonight.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Wheeler scored twice in the second quarter. His scores were separated by the lightning delay.
Wheeler's first was a 10-yarder just 53 seconds into the quarter. His second, a 15-yarder with 5:01 left, gave West Mifflin a 14-3 halftime lead. EF's only first-half points were a 20-yard field goal by Adam Stitt.
Elizabeth Forward twice had the football inside West Mifflin's 10-yard line but couldn't score. The first chance ended one yard short of the goal line on fourth down. Halftime halted the second with EF at the 6.
“The defense had some great stops,” Braszo said. “With the weapons they have, I have to give my kids a lot of credit.”
A 37-yard touchdown catch by Matt Bernadowski in the third quarter pulled EF to within four points. The catch at 6:41 cut West Mifflin's lead to 14-10.
But Wheeler responded with three quick touchdowns in less than three minutes to give West Mifflin a 34-10 lead entering the fourth. His weaving 50-yarder was the most impressive.
Wheeler's sixth touchdown, a 34-yarder, came in the fourth. For Wheeler, these once-in-a-lifetime games for many have become almost routine.
“Lately, it seems like it,” Braszo said. “You don't expect him to do it every week, but so far he has.”
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
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