DELAY OF GAME— It's said that good things come to those who wait.
For Woodland, that good thing was a victory Friday night in the season opener against Southeast Whitfield.
A roughly 90-minute lightning delay couldn't strike down the Wildcats' successful debut, a 31-22 road win over the Raiders to begin a season with the highest expectations in recent memory.
And while no one was particularly pleased with the lightning delay at the time, Woodland head coach Tony Plott said it wound up being a blessing in disguise.
"The coaching staff and the kids handled the delay about as best we could during the circumstances," he said. "We had to keep some of the younger kids in the gym with the spectators, and we kept the varsity kids that were playing back in the back hallway so they were separated form everybody so they could stay focused.
"We were able to make sure they got hydrated and just made some corrections. The coaches were able to meet and do some stuff that, normally, we wouldn't be able to do. So we took full advantage of it."
The 90-minute delay featured adjustments, hydration and rest, but it also included coaches from Southeast and Woodland trying to figure out the best course of action. If one team was ahead on the scoreboard, the team that was losing at the time could have opted to forfeit. But since the game was tied at 15-all entering the fourth quarter, the game would have either have to have been rescheduled to Saturday or Monday, or each team would have had to take a loss on their record and pay a fine to the GHSA.
Neither was a good option, and so the coaches' eyes remained glued to the radar in hopes of relief.
"So you're basically in the situation where you have to play the game," Plott said. "I think both teams wanted to play it last night and not have to come back in. They were wanting to play on Saturday, and with us being off next Friday, we wanted to play it on Monday. So, the bottom line was, we had to do it [Friday] night."
Eventually, around 11:20 p.m., play resumed and the game lasted until about 11:50 p.m.
The delay began just before the first snap of the fourth quarter, and it was a fourth quarter that would belong to senior standout Titus Jones and Woodland, but not at first.
After Woodland fumbled inside the Southeast Whitfield 2-yard line in the third quarter, the Raiders came back down to tie the game. They then had the ball to start the fourth out of the delay and scored to take a 22-15 lead with about 11 minutes to go in the game.
Plott admitted he felt his team let Southeast Whitfield hang around too long after taking an early 15-0 lead.
"They have a good team. I'm not taking anything away from them. They were a playoff team last year. ... They are extremely big and have some really good athletes. But I still feel like we left points on the field," Plott said. "It was frustrating, obviously. … We just had to trust that we made the right corrections and we were going to be able to take advantage of our opportunities. And we did."
Then, on Woodland's first offensive possession after the delay, Jones came out to play quarterback for the first time and would go the rest of the way, leading the Wildcats on two touchdown drives and intercepting a pass to seal the win.
Sophomore quarterback Jakob Foss did not play poorly for Woodland. He went 3-for-5 passing for 81 yards and a touchdown, but the Woodland coaches wanted another athlete on the field after running back Demarcus Williams was helped off with a leg injury early in the third quarter.
"We worked with [Jones during the delay] to make sure he got the snaps under center," Plott said. "We did it basically because of some of the injuries that we've had. We didn't have really an outside threat, we felt like. We knew Titus running the keep would be able to keep people honest. And it proved to be the right route."
Indeed it was. Jones ran for 76 yards, in addition to a touchdown, two 2-point conversions and an interception, all in the fourth quarter.
Afterward, the drama of the win manifested itself with an elated post-game bus ride, at least before the Wildcat players became sleepy.
"For the first five minutes of the trip, they were pretty happy," Plott said. "But it was pretty quiet after that."
IN HOG MOLLY HEAVEN — The term hog molly was coined by New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman during the NFL offseason in reference to nasty offensive linemen, and Woodland's quintet up front fit the description Friday night.
Possibly the most apparent characteristic of Southeast Whitfield was how massive the Raiders' linemen were, but it was the Wildcats that got the better of the line of scrimmage.
From left, Randall Freeman, Hunter Worley and Forest Turner working in at left guard, Jaymie Jacobo, Jalen Hudson and Aaron Carlson paved the way for an impressive 456 yards of total offense, 375 of which came on the ground.
Woodland scored on both of its offensive possessions in the fourth quarter without throwing a single pass, as Titus Jones and Justice Carter benefitted from the open running lanes.
When you move down the field and score in consecutive possessions without throwing a single pass, the defense knows what you're going to do and just can't stop it. That's a credit to the boys up front.