It always seemed likely Friday's matchup between Woodland and Cass would be a low-scoring contest. Both teams love to methodically run the football and each side boasts a stellar defense.
The Wildcats and Colonels made it into the red zone three times apiece. Woodland scored short touchdowns on runs by Titus Jones and Demarcus Williams with a Ronny Ramirez 33-yard field goal on the other drive. Cass punched it in once on a Rett Moore 2-yard keeper, but the other two drives ended with no points.
Taking advantage of their opportunities — and keeping the Colonels from converting on theirs — proved to be the difference as the Wildcats beat their Bartow County rivals by a 17-7 score in the Region 7-AAAAA opener for both teams at Doug Cochran Field.
Cass (1-2, 0-1) controlled proceedings virtually the entire first half. Each of the Colonels' first three series reached the Wildcats 10-yard line.
The first ended with a blocked field goal when the game was scoreless, and Woodland immediately marched down the field with Jones finishing off the possession in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
The second culminated in Moore's short TD run to tie the score at 7-7.
The third finished with Nick Bailey recovering Moore's fumble when Cass could have taken the lead.
"It was huge," Woodland head coach Tony Plott said of his defense's play in the first half. "Our defense, as we call it, bowed their neck and made a stand. That's what we expect out of them. We have some good players on that side of the ball, so I think we should be able to do that."
So even with having dominated the opening two quarters, the Colonels found themselves tied at the break with the Wildcats, who have started the season 3-0 for the first time since 2008.
"That cost us the ballgame, probably," Cass head coach Bobby Hughes said of not capitalizing more in the first half. "They executed the game plan. I can't ask them to play any harder than they did. That's a good football team, and we got after them."
After a disappointing first half, Woodland came out hungry in the third quarter, and the Wildcats feasted.
"I think our kids felt like we had underperformed at halftime," Plott said. "They felt like we could do better. They came out and played with a different type of intensity and a different type of sense of urgency. Our defense played a little bit better. We made some adjustments. ... I thought it worked out for us, and I thought we made things a lot harder on them in the second half."
Woodland forced a three-and-out on Cass' first possession. After a punt of their own, the Wildcats forced a fumble that Brody Key recovered at the Colonels 36-yard line.
Cass nearly forced a three-and-out, but Jakob Foss completed a 13-yard screen pass to Justice Carter on third-and-11 to keep the drive alive. It was the only completed pass by either team in the game.
A few plays later, Carter, who totaled 100 yards on 20 carries, fumbled inside the 5-yard line. Unlike the Wildcats, the Colonels weren't able to fall on the loose ball, which squirted out of bounds at the 2.
Williams, who added 71 rushing yards, plunged into the end zone on the following play to give Woodland the lead for good.
Even still, Cass, which received 85 rushing yards from Thomas Gilliam, needed just one big play in its favor to knot the score. It never came, though, as the offense continued its struggles from last week of failing to connect on its home-run plays.
Williams and Carter, who combined for exactly 100 second-half rushing yards, alternated carries on a 10-play drive early in the fourth quarter. Ramirez capped the series with his field goal to give the Wildcats a 10-point lead with seven minutes to go.
Even still, Cass, which heads to Villa Rica next week, had chances to at least cut into its deficit. The Colonels, though, turned the ball over on downs in Wildcat territory. Later, Moore was picked off by Seth Johnson immediately after a Woodland fumble to seal the game.
The victory puts the Wildcats in a brief tie atop the region standings with Carrollton, Rome and Hiram. Woodland will welcome Paulding County (0-3, 0-1) to Wildcat Stadium next week in a bid to stay at the pinnacle.
Friday's win over their neighbor, especially the second-half performance, should have the Wildcats flying high entering the matchup.
"Hopefully, we'll still continue to build confidence," Plott said. "We're still fighting things that programs that haven't been really good before fight. If things don't go our way, we kind of get down. When things are good, we're good. What you saw tonight is our kids were upset that they hadn't played well. Instead of pouting and just packing it in, they came back out in the second half and took care of business."