Woodland took a two-score lead with a four-touchdown performance in the first half before holding off a late rally for a 39-26 win over Cass, which was playing for the first time in Doug Cochran Stadium.
"This game was really a microcosm for what we've been talking about all year. We can't quit; we can never give up; we can't get too high, we can't get too low, and we gotta keep our poise," said DiLorenzo, who was hired to replace former coach Steve Hamilton last winter. "My hats off to Cass and coach [Rick] Casko and his staff. Those guys never quit. I know that they've earned my respect, and I'm sure they've earned the respect of the rest of our players."
Despite fielding one of his youngest teams in years, Casko's Colonels managed to erase a 14-point deficit in the second half.
"I'm so proud of our second half because we went in and challenged our kids. Now, I'm challenging sophomores. Most of our kids are young," the ninth-year Cass coach said. "We're close, so I'm really pleased with the way our kids continued to play. It's a young bunch and they could've folded a little bit, and they didn't. They stood up to the challenge."
After the Wildcats took a 33-12 lead on R.J. Williams' 15-yard dash to the end zone with 5:04 left in the third quarter, Cass fought back with a couple of scores to add some suspense to a game that looked to be out of reach.
Colonels sophomore quarterback Brandon Etheridge evaded a sack on second-and-10 from his team's own 40-yard line -- a Houdini act Etheridge executed multiple times -- and completed a pass to Kelin Wells, who turned it into a 38-yard gain.
Etheridge returned to Wells following a couple of incompletions, and the sophomore wide receiver gained 19 yards down to the Woodland 3.
Without deviating from what seemed to be working, Etheridge went to the well once again, so to speak, as the duo finished off the drive with a screen pass that resulted in a touchdown and 33-19 deficit at the 3:49 mark.
The Wildcats' ensuing drive carried them into Cass territory, and even featured a fourth-down conversion, but the Colonels forced a turnover on downs at their 41.
A stalled drive gave the ball back to Woodland, which went three-and-out to return possession to Cass.
Starting at their own 38, Etheridge and Wells hooked up on a pair of completions, from 5 and 24 yards, to move into the Wildcats' side of the field.
A few plays later, on third-and-2, Etheridge lofted a ball up toward Loren Drayton, who had to wait for the ball near the goal line but pulled it in after a defender forced him to bobble the ball. Drayton's 30-yard TD catch pulled the Colonels to within 33-26 with 6:18 remaining in the contest.
With another Woodland drive eating up clock but producing no points, Cass took over at its 15 with 2:23 left.
As Etheridge dropped back, he faced pressure as he had much of the night, but there were no more escapes as Wildcats defensive end Chandler Royal strip-sacked the young QB at the 2-yard line and took the ball in for the game-clinching touchdown at the 2:14 mark.
DiLorenzo praised his defense for its play down the stretch and early on, but did acknowledge a few shortcomings.
"The defense made a couple of stops that were huge," he said. "We've said all along that we have what we think are the makings of a great defense. Now we know our linebackers and front are good, but the big, big, big disappointment -- and I don't think it's a secret -- is our secondary. We tried probably everybody except the water boy in the secondary during the game to try to find somebody who would stay deep and break on the ball. At various times, certain guys did it and then they would have a mental lapse and they'd let somebody get behind 'em.
"We get the secondary straight, we're gonna have a great defense."
It was the Colonels' secondary that sprung one too many leaks in the first half as Williams, Woodland's junior signal-caller, staked his team to a huge lead with 255 passing yards and three TD tosses, including two to Deo Adams -- one which came at the end of the half.
Williams led the Wildcats on a short drive -- which covered just 30 yards following a 27-yard Etheridge punt and 15-yard return from Josh Young -- and scored a 5-yard TD after sneaking to the left side of the end zone with a minute remaining in the first quarter.
Wells provided Cass' response just a few seconds later as he took Will Broome's kickoff 90 yards to the house to close the gap to 7-6 with 46 seconds in the first.
Young's fumble on the ensuing kickoff put the Colonels on the 30 of their opponent, and Etheridge used the great field position to his advantage, hitting Andrew Hunt in stride on a perfectly timed slant for a 23-yard TD. Cass led 12-7 with 11:55 in the half.
Woodland would score on its next three drives. Williams had a 40-plus yard run negated due to a holding penalty, but used a short pass to Cambrell Turner in the middle of the field to get that yardage back. The Wildcats QB then ran for a first down on third-and-4 and, a couple of plays later, eventually threw a strike to Mason Robinson on an out route that yielded more points for Woodland as Robinson raced down the sidelines for a 61-yard score, with the score now 14-12 as 7:50 showed on the clock.
The Colonels' next drive ended at the Wildcats' 39, but a snap that sailed over Etheridge's head negated any attempt at a punt, with the QB lucky to scramble back to the Woodland 41.
The Wildcats needed eight plays for 59 yards, with Williams finding Adams in the middle of the field, near the goal line. The senior receiver leapt for the grab at the 2, spun away from a defender and pushed into the end zone. The lead stood at 20-12 with 1:17 in the half.
As Cass prepared to punt after Ronnie LaFollette lost yards on third-and-inches, Woodland called timeout with 12 seconds left.
Much like it had earlier, the snap went high over the 6-foot Etheridge, who fell on the ball at Cass' 31 with 1.5 seconds still on the clock -- just enough time for Williams to float a pass to Adams, who had gotten behind the Colonels' defense. The TD catch gave the Wildcats a 26-12 lead at the half.
"That first half it was like nobody quit. We had that roller coaster where we got ahead, then we got behind and then we had got back ahead again," DiLorenzo said.
Casko lamented those two bad snaps, which led to points for Woodland.
"We just can't make those mistakes," he said.
At the start of the third quarter, it was the Wildcats who made the mistake as Williams misfired on a pass that was picked off by Deon Hardison. Hardison returned the ball 17 yards inside the Woodland 10.
However, the Colonels' drive ended with a missed 43-yard field goal, which was prompted by a couple of Wildcat sacks.
Woodland would go up by 21 before Cass' comeback.
DiLorenzo said the Wildcats thought they could run the ball, but noted it may have affected their air attack.
"We had some success running it, but then when we had to go back and throw -- when we didn't get as many yards as we needed to to get a first down -- our passing game left us. That's one of the things we'll have to look at on film and see what happened -- why was our passing attack [not] as good in the second half as it was in the first," he said. "And it may be Cass, it may be we did something wrong."
Meanwhile, the Colonels, too, will look to correct some mistakes and try to improve.
"I just talked to those kids. I said, 'You guys are gonna be special.' They're gonna be a very good group. We're going to get better every week. They're going to get better every week, but you can't coach experience. That's one thing I've learned over the years," Casko said. "Woodland has a good scheme. They got good athletes in there, and I know it's a big heavy senior bunch of those guys. They played well. They won the football game tonight, and we made too many mistakes to win. And they didn't make the mistakes."
Woodland (1-0, 1-0 Region 7-AAAA) hosts South Forsyth (1-0, 1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday while Cass (0-1, 0-1) travels to Rome (0-1, 0-1) for an 8 p.m. game.
SCORING BY QUARTERS
1 2 3 4 F
WOO 7 19 7 6 39
CAS 6 6 7 7 26
WOO -- R.J. Williams 5-yd run (Ben Haney kick), 59.7
CAS -- Kelin Wells 90-yd kickoff return (kick missed), 46.8
CAS -- Andrew Hunt 23-yd pass from Brandon Etheridge (kick missed), 11:55
WOO -- Mason Robinson 61-yd pass from Williams (Haney kick), 7:50
WOO -- Adams 22-yd pass from Williams (kick blocked), 1:17
WOO -- Adams 31-yd pass from Williams (kick missed), 0:00
WOO -- Williams 15-yd run (Haney kick), 5:04
CAS -- Wells 3-yd pass from Etheridge (Guadalupe Rangel kick), 3:49
CAS -- Drayton 30-yd pass from Etheridge (Rangel kick), 6:18
WOO -- Chandler Royal 2-yd fumble return (kick missed), 2:14
First downs 20 11
Rushes-yds 27-112 21-(-35)
Passing yds 306 225
Comp-Att-Int 23-35-1 14-24-0
Total yds 418 190
Penalties 7-45 5-35
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-2
Punts-yds 3-110 3-91
Rushing -- Woodland: R.J. Williams 16-96-2, Cambrell Turner 7-24, Twan Terrell 1-7, Qua Stocks 1-1, Team 2-(-16); Cass: Kelin Wells 1-2, Ronnie LaFollette 6-0, Brandon Etheridge 14-(-37).
Passing -- Woodland: Williams 23-35-306-3-1; Cass: Etheridge 13-23-215-3-0, Wells 1-1-10-0-0.
Receiving -- Woodland: Mason Robinson 4-94-1, Deo Adams 5-73-2, Stocks 5-70, Terrell 2-22, Turner 4-22, Xavier Niblett 3-17; Cass: Wells 6-99-1, Blake Kirk 3-50, Andrew Hunt 3-36-1, Loren Drayton 1-30-1, LaFollette 1-10.