Wildcats, Colonels face off to begin region play

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The head coaches for Woodland and Cass had a war of words ahead of Friday night’s meeting between the intracounty and Region 7-AAAAA rivals.

Woodland’s Tony Plott and Cass’ Bobby Hughes had an unintentional battle … to see who could heap more praise on the other’s team.

Neither program has experienced much success in recent years, but the Wildcats (2-0) and Colonels (1-1) are off to solid starts to this season. It had both coaches paying respect to what their opposition will bring to the table when they meet at 7:30 Friday night at Cass’ Doug Cochran Stadium.

“I definitely think they are the best team we’ve played, so far,” Plott said of the Colonels. “They are much improved over last year. They were able to add a couple of coaches to their coaching staff, and I’ve been able to see a difference on film. They’re hungry, and they’re going to give us their best effort and we know that.”

Hughes wasn’t shy about complimenting the Wildcats, either.

“We’re playing a really talented, confident team,” he said. “They’re playing really well right now. Tony’s done a tremendous job, where he’s built that [program] to. We hope we can come out and be competitive.”

The Woodland-Cass all-time series leans the Colonels' way, 9-5. Woodland won the game last year, 20-6, but Cass had won the previous three matchups and eight of the previous nine.

This time around, the teams will meet in the first week of the region schedule with one guaranteed to be tied for first at the end of the night. The caveat just adds to a matchup that never needs any outside stimulus to produce a classic result.

“Who we’re playing just adds to it, but every coach in the region is telling their teams that at 10:30 Friday night, half the teams are going to be 1-0 and half of them are going to be looking up at 0-1,” Hughes said. “That’s the bare-bones reality of it. When you add in the other stuff, it just makes it more exciting, especially for the kids. ... That makes it fun from a different level.”

On an Xs and Os level, the teams showcase similar strengths and weaknesses.

Offensively, the running game will dictate a lot for both sides. Each team employs several backs who bring different skill sets to the table. Aside from the always important turnover battle, controlling the ball and the clock will likely be the biggest determining factor in who wins.

Woodland utilizes the unique abilities of its three-headed backfield monster to gain an advantage. Hard-running Justice Carter powers his way inside to earn important yardage up the middle; Demarcus Williams has a rare combination of strength and speed to blow past or run over defenders; and Jimmy Davis, who made his season debut last week, offers an exciting change of pace.

The presence of Wildcats quarterback Jakob Foss has expanded and diversified the offense.

“They’ve got three really good backs, and then the addition of the new quarterback makes them even more dynamic, as far as the things they can do,” Hughes said. “They give you the closed, three-back set, and then next thing you know, they’re in four-wide spread. You have a lot of stuff that you need to spend time on. All that is by design … but they do that really well.”

Cass, meanwhile, has gone through a similar transformation this season. Known for its ground attack in previous campaigns, the Colonels have managed to incorporate a viable aerial assault through the growth of quarterback Rett Moore and the addition of wide receiver Jacquez Fountain.

However, last week showed Cass still has a ways to go before it can be a true threat to a team’s secondary. Regardless, they have impressed Plott with their improvement from last year on the offensive side of the ball.

“They have an identity on offense,” he said. “… They do a great job. The offensive coordinator over there has really done a great job with them. That’s one of the areas [where] I think they’re much improved is on the offensive side of the ball.”

“They’ve got some pieces,” he added, singling out Fountain and slotback Zay Jackson as impact performers. “They’ve got everything you need to have a successful offense.”

While both teams have shown increased success on offense, there’s still a chance for a low-scoring game, as each team will bring an impressive defensive unit to Friday night’s contest.

The Colonels have long leaned on the strength of their defense to compete on a weekly basis. This year, the heart of the defense beats in the linebackers, particularly Rodney Richards, Eathan Mitchell, Reed Davis and Blake Carrington. Even with an improved offense, Cass will still need a lights-out D to hang with a Woodland team that exploded for 55 points last week.

“That’s a trademark of a Bobby Hughes team, they’re going to play great defense,” Plott said. “I thought last year they played really well on defense. They’re going to be physical, they’re going to be well coached and disciplined on defense. We really expect it to be a low-scoring game. It’s going to be a physical game. With the offenses of both of us, possessions are going to be limited. It’s old-fashioned physical football.”

Across the way, Woodland hangs its hat on a strong defense, too. Plott said the D-line improved significantly in the team’s second game. Combine that with a linebacking corps and secondary as tough as any in north Georgia, and it’s a daunting task for the Cass offense.

“They’re physical, especially in the secondary,” Hughes said. “In my opinion, they’ve got the best athlete in the region back there in Titus Jones. He’s a one-of-a-kind guy. They’re solid up front. They’ve got a lot of pieces to work with.”

As positively as both teams have started the season, they enter off decidedly different non-region finales. It should be noted, Woodland hosted Class 3A East Hall and Cass traveled to Class 7A Forsyth Central.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise the Wildcats destroyed their opponent and the Colonels came up short against theirs. Cass, though, had plenty of chances to possibly come away with a win.

As disappointing as it was to lose a winnable game, Hughes said the team has responded well to the setback. Coming off a season-opening win over Adairsville, the defeat at least managed to teach Cass a few hard-to-swallow lessons before region action begins.

“We feel like we’re moving in the right direction,” Hughes said. “Even though we made a couple of glaring mistakes last week, our kids kept fighting. That’s a testament to where we’ve built it from that there’s not a whole lot of quit in them. We just can’t make those big mistakes and overcome them, and we’re aware of that.”

While Cass was rueing its missed opportunities, Woodland was getting a confidence-boosting victory. After overcoming adversity to snatch a road win in their opener, the Wildcats thoroughly dominated the Vikings in a 55-3 rout.

Even though the pair of triumphs have boosted morale at Woodland, Plott has stressed to his players one important thing: Cass will be the most challenging game, yet.

“They played fairly well in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams,” Plott said of his team’s most recent performance. “We had some kicking issues on extra points that we’ve worked on this week to clean up. Other than that, it was a pretty clean game in all three phases.

“They should be building confidence, but the kids understand that Cass is a much better football team than what we played [last] Friday. It’s going to be difficult; it’s going to be a tough game.”