Wheeling downs Round Lake for Panagakis' first win
The return of fall football for the first time in two years was a sight for sore eyes when host Wheeling faced Round Lake under some very hot playing conditions Friday night. It turned out to be the aerial attack of the visiting Panthers against the ground game of the Wildcats, and it was the rushing attack of Wheeling that would win out in the end.
Round Lake did strike first with a touchdown early in the second quarter. But the Wildcats built a 13-7 halftime lead before capturing a 27-15 nonconference victory over the Wildcats.
And while most teams would shy away from too much focus on a 19-game losing streak heading into the game, first-year Wheeling coach Peter Panagakis and the Wildcats focused on snapping that pesky streak to open the 2021 season.
"We said when we took over we wanted to be very competitive, and I like our heart and our toughness," said Panagakis, whose team had 239 yards rushing. "We just broke our losing streak, we will enjoy this tonight and we'll get back to work tomorrow."
Round Lake senior quarterback Cristian Castro (13-for-27 passing, 185 yards) scrambled and found J.B. Brown for a 3-yard touchdown pass before Saul Ugarte's extra point gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
Wheeling senior Joe Mitroi (122 yards on 8 carries) got the Wildcats' offense rolling in the second quarter as runs of 27 and 10 yards helped put the ball on the Round Lake 3-yard-line. From there, Simon Micula (77 yards on 14 rushes) scored on a 3-yard TD run before the extra point by Javier Lopez tied the score at 7-7.
Then sweeping right through traffic, Mitroi scored on a 35-yard TD run with just 4.4 seconds left before the intermission.
"I'm just glad that we came back from that two-year drought, we have a new head coach, we're just trying to get a new program going, and this is the first of many wins to come so I'm glad," said Mitroi, whose team did not have Diego Giles available for the game. "The losing streak was not a fun time, we knew what we had to do to change up this whole program and start fresh."
A 21-yard TD run going from right to left by Wheeling's Nicholas Ornelas boosted the lead to 20-7 before teammate Brandon Roman made a spin move en route to a 27-7 lead.
A 19-yard TD pass from Castro to Jalynn Burton and a 2-point conversion catch by Burton accounted for the last points with 48.4 left in the third quarter.
"We came out strong with that opening kickoff, and in the second half they seemed to get a little more momentum," said Round Lake coach Scott Blecha. "Cris (Castro) has thrown for over 1,000 yards the last two seasons and when he's throwing like that we're going to lean on him a little more.
Wheeling quarterback A.J. Marchetti threw for 87 yards and ran for 58 yards while Ornelas had 25 yards on just 3 carries.