The cold and rainy conditions accounted for some slick running lanes for one of the WPIAL's leading rushers.
But the kid they call "Wheels" proved he is an all-terrain vehicle.
Jimmy Wheeler rushed for 189 yards and scored three touchdowns as West Mifflin followed a lethargic first half with a dominant second half on its way to a 28-14 win Friday against visiting Knoch in a WPIAL Class AAA first-round game.
Knoch (7-3), the No. 10 seed, saw its hopes of making it to the championship game for the second year in a row slide away, but No. 7 West Mifflin (8-2) moved one step closer to Heinz Field. The Titans advanced to play No. 2 Mars, a 45-21 winner against Blackhawk. In the first round a year ago, West Mifflin beat Mars, 21-8.
As they have all season, Wheeler and quarterback Derrick Fulmore displayed plenty of dynamic, big-play ability. Wheeler scored on runs of 68, 16 and 55 yards. Fulmore ran for a 71-yard touchdown and finished with 145 yards on 16 carries. The two accounted for all but two of West Mifflin's 336 yards rushing.
"Anytime they can get in the open field, they can take off," West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said of his speedy duo.
Late in the third quarter, West Mifflin was in dire need of a spark. The score was tied, 7-7, and the Titans offense had sputtered since the opening moments of the game. Knoch punter Dakota Bruggeman -- who is also the team's quarterback -- connected on a pinpoint punt that went out of bounds at the West Mifflin 1. After moving the ball to the 29, Fulmore faked an option pitch, cut left and took it the distance to give the Titans a lead they would not relinquish.
"That was big," Knoch coach Mike King said. "You're in there slugging it out with them and then they do that. They just have that explosive ability."
After Fulmore's touchdown, a turnover-fest ensued in which Knoch's Ben Tackett lost a fumble on a kickoff return (A.J. Olasz made the recovery), Fulmore was hit and lost a fumble (Joe Colonello recovered) and West Mifflin's Jimmy Keys intercepted a Bruggeman pass.
That takeaway gave West Mifflin the ball at the Knoch 27. Three plays later, Wheeler scored on a 16-yard run. A successful 2-point pass put the Titans ahead, 21-7, with 9:33 left.
Bruggeman scored on an 11-yard touchdown run, and Wheeler closed out the scoring with a pretty, 55-yard scoring jaunt. Wheeler, a track star, smiled when asked if he ever gets concerned with getting run down from behind.
"I better not," he said. "Nobody better ever catch me."
West Mifflin outgained Knoch, 253-106, in the second half, a stark contrast to the first half, when the Knights had a 188-87 edge.
Knoch running back Ben Tackett ran for 86 yards on 16 carries in the first half but was limited to 3 yards on four carries in the second half.
Bruggeman finished 12 of 26 passing for 202 yards.
The West Mifflin offense, which came in averaging 37 points per game, started the game with a bang. Wheeler took a carry on the first play from scrimmage and gave the Titans a quick, 7-0 lead after a 68-yard touchdown.
But the Titans only gained 19 yards and one first down the rest of the half.
Knoch, meanwhile, had little trouble moving the ball. The Knights countered West Mifflin's touchdown by driving 80 yards on 11 plays, eventually knotting the score when Tackett took a direct snap, ran through a hole to his left, and then reversed fields for a nifty 26-yard scoring run. The Knights ran 35 offensive plays in the first half, compared to just 15 for the Titans.
First Published November 3, 2012 4:30 AM