By Matt Nascone
Marietta Daily Journal
MARIETTA – The season opened with a bang for Wheeler Friday night as senior J.D. Thomas took the opening kickoff of the 2019 campaign back 93 yards for a touchdown in the Wildcats' 42-19 victory against Lambert. Thomas did not stop there, as he added two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown to power the Wildcats in the first half.
“We have always taught the kids that special teams, especially in these early games, is going to be the difference. It definitely was tonight as well,” Wheeler coach Bryan Love said.
Thomas bought into what his coach has been preaching all offseason, and he also made a promise to his teammates.
“Before we came out here I had told my teammates, 'Do what y’all have to do and I got y’all.' And we got the job done, but if it wasn't for my teammates this would not have been a big game for me really,” Thomas said. “I was not expecting to do what I did tonight, but all the glory to God.”
The win was also Love's first win as a head coach.
“Any time a new coach comes in it is always a trust factor that has to be there. So we have been trying to teach that since we got here,” Love said. “The fruits of the labor paid off tonight.”
Wheeler amassed 374 yards of total offense, including 283 yards rushing, and scored on its first six possessions. The scoring barrage included four drives of three plays or less.
“We have some talented skill players on this team, and we are trying to play to our strong suits right now,” Love said. “We are going to play some fundamental football and we have some thunder and lightning going on there. Tonight we wanted to get our run game going early.”
Thomas and senior Deonte Richardson each had a long touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in successive drives in the second quarter. Richardson said the transition to running back was a smooth one for him.
“It felt good out there in my first year at running back and I want to thank my O-line and all my teammates,” he said.
Thomas compiled 280 all-purpose yards in the game and had four touchdowns including rushing scores of 33 and 52 yards and a receiving touchdown of 70 yards from Andy Feddersen. Richardson led all players with 162 rushing yards on 17 carries and had touchdowns of 5 and 71 yards.
Lambert did all its damage through the air, as Peyton Rich was 13 for 26 for 241 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. However, Wheeler held the Longhorns rushing attack to just 54 yards on 25 carries for a total offensive output of 295 yards. Rich did have six passes of at least 20 yards.
“We had some ups and downs, but very happy for the kids,” Love said. “The defense has been great early. It was great in the spring time against Lithonia, it was great against Pope, and they came out tonight and had another good performance. Overall I was very pleased with their effort.”