Woodland’s season opener at Southeast Whitfield Friday night was shaping up to be a good one. Deadlocked at a 15-15 tie, the Raiders were facing a third-and-6 at the Wildcats’ 36 to begin the fourth quarter.
And that was when the stadium was ordered to clear.
Thus began a 30-minute weather delay, which soon morphed into an hourlong one — then a 90-minute one. The interruption made Woodland have to wait, but the Wildcats, in particular Titus Jones, came out on strong afterwards in earning a season-opening, 31-22 road win in Dalton.
Prior to the downpour, Woodland (1-0) jumped out to an 8-0 lead following fullback Justice Carter’s 9-yard touchdown run. That was followed by a successful 2-point conversion try, with safety Titus Jones lobbing a quick strike to linebacker Austin Potter in the end zone.
Southeast Whitfield quarterback Adam Sowder appeared to have a 70-yard-plus touchdown run on the Raiders’ next possession, but an offensive holding call against Southeast Whitfield (0-1) erased the yardage — and the points from the scoreboard.
That Raiders’ drive ended with Sowder getting gobbled up Woodland linebacker Reed Findley for an 11-yard loss.
The ensuing Wildcats possession was short-lived, however, as halfback Blake Cash fumbled the ball away.
A screen pass from Sowder to halfback Christian Gilllespie looked like it gave the Raiders a gain of 50-plus yards. A penalty against Southeast Whitfield, however, negated the play.
Woodland made it a 15-0 game on the next drive, as quarterback Jakob Foss’ very first pass of the game wound up being a 37-yard touchdown strike to halfback Demarcus Williams.
But with just 45 seconds left in the first half, Sowder connected with receiver Zac Cole on a 14-yard touchdown pass to make it 15-7 in favor of the Wildcats.
Woodland’s Williams went down early in the third quarter and was helped off the field. Up until that point, the versatile halfback had 30 yards on eight rushes and 58 receiving yards, including the touchdown.
As of press time, there is no update on the extent and severity of his injuries.
Two plays later, Carter broke off a monstrous 46-yard run, with the Wildcats’ rushing attack pushing the ball to the Raiders’ 3-yard-line — where Foss fumbled the ball away on first down.
The Raiders erased Woodland’s lead on their next possession, with Gillespie notching a 32-yard touchdown run. Southeast Whitfield followed suit with a successful 2-point conversion, officially making it a 15-15 contest at the 4:39 mark of the third quarter.
Woodland went three-and-out on its next possession, and Southeast Whitfield began its next drive at midfield. They would make it another 13 yards downfield before the weather delay put a halt to the action.
From there, the action leapt from the gridiron to the high school’s STEM lab, where the coaching staffs for both teams mulled their options. That’s when the referee rendered his ruling; since the game was tied heading into the final quarter and GHSA bylaws force teams to play to completion, the two schools had to wrap up the contest or both face forfeitures and possibly fines from Georgia’s high school sports governing body.
Unsurprisingly, both coaching staffs decided to wait out the storms.
At long last, the game resumed around 11:20 p.m.
Foss concluded the first three quarters of play going 3 for 4 on passes, collecting 53 yards in the air before the stoppage due to lightning.
It may have seemed like a gamble to change quarterbacks with 12 minutes remaining in regulation, but the personnel shift paid dividends for the Wildcats.
The Raiders may have struck early — with Gillespie breaking off a 13-yard TD run to give Southeast Whitfield its first lead of the game — but that lead was short-lived with Jones under center for Woodland. On the ensuing possession, he scrambled 39 yards downfield, setting up Carter for an 8-yard touchdown run. Jones ran in the 2-point conversion, giving Woodland a 23-22 lead around the 8:24 mark.
Two plays later, Sowder would make a costly throw — with none other than Jones picking off the Raiders’ quarterback before returning the ball a good 12 yards.
Jones would rush for 37 yards on the next drive, as the Wildcats muscled their way down to the Raiders’ 1-yard line. Jones powered his way into the end zone with 1:18 to go in the fourth to effectively put the dagger through the hearts of the Raiders’ faithful.
And, of course, who else would score the 2-point conversion but Jones?
The Wildcats’ D held steady, and facing a fourth-and-26, the Raiders decided to punt it away ... providing perhaps the only uneventful moment of the fourth quarter to end Woodland’s wild and woolly 31-22 win.