Despite earning the higher seed, Eagar Round Valley knew that its 3A quarterfinal hopes hinged on being able to stop Coolidge quarterback and offensive dynamo Jesse Wheeler. It didn’t.
Wheeler, who had amassed 2,500 yards of total offense coming into the game, was stellar against the previously undefeated Elks, both offensively and defensively.
He rushed 15 times for 51 yards and completed 9-of-11 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 50-21 thumping of the 3A East Region top seed on Friday night at Mesa Community College.
With the victory, South Region No. 2 seed Coolidge (10-1) advances to a semifinal contest against 3A North Region top seed Winslow (11-1) at 8 p.m. on Friday at MCC — a rematch of last year's state title game, won by Coolidge.
Wheeler picked apart an Elks (11-1) defense that had allowed just 55 points all season entering the game, and had collected five shutouts in the process. Its closest margin was a 30-22 victory over region foe Snowflake.
Wheeler’s interception of Elks’ quarterback Trevor Nicoll on the third play of the game set up the Bears’ first touchdown, and his 50-yard runback of a Josh Taylor field goal attempt led to another Coolidge touchdown as the Bears raced to a 43-14 halftime lead.
Wheeler had plenty of weapons at his disposal. Running back T.J. White carried the ball 17 times for 115 yards and a score and had one of three Bears’ interceptions.
Teammate Brad Jackson (112 yards rushing, 159 receiving) scored three rushing touchdowns and caught a 74-yarder from Wheeler that gave Coolidge a 14-7 lead less than three minutes into the game. Jackson finished with four receptions for 159 yards.
Round Valley kept the game exciting early when Jerrett Chavez returned a Coolidge kickoff 98 yards for a score and a 7-7 tie.