Pretty much any way you slice it, Woodland’s in-region open date came at the perfect time.
Not only did it come fairly close to the middle of the eight-game schedule but also the bye week followed games against Rome and Carrollton. Those consecutive contests versus the top two teams currently in the Region 7-AAAAA standings left the Wildcats licking their wounds.
That’s why the No. 1 priority for Woodland head coach Tony Plott last week — with no opponent on the docket — was to get healthy for the season’s stretch run. Next on the list came inward focus, a common theme for the Wildcats this year.
“The whole focus of this season has just been us getting better,” Plott said.
Finally, as the week wound to a close, Plott and his staff began preparing their Wildcats to face the region’s other Wildcats — those from Villa Rica.
It’s impossible to discuss Villa Rica (4-3, 3-2) without mentioning Mecose Todd. The junior running back verbally committed to South Carolina back in February.
Already a well-known player across the state, he made a name for himself nationally with a Marshawn Lynch-esque “Beastmode” touchdown run earlier this season against Paulding County.
While Plott understands the talent Todd possesses, he cautioned against thinking Villa Rica’s offense is a one-man show.
“It’s not just him,” Plott said of Todd. “There’s him, and then there’s the No. 5 kid [Phillip Zachery], 22 [Dushante Holloway] and when No. 2 [Tristen Allen] is in at quarterback, they’re really good. He came late in late in the game against Hiram.
“They’ve got some players. They’re a good football team, and I think coach [Rico] Zackery does a good job there. We kind of look at them as one of the frontrunners to get that final playoff spot.”
If Villa Rica hopes to sneak into the postseason out of this uber-competitive region, the Wildcats will need to continue to hold serve at home. On the season, Villa Rica is unbeaten in four home games and winless in three road contests.
Meanwhile, Woodland (4-3, 2-3) has shown an ability to win away from its friendly confines. The Wildcats, who enter Friday on a three-game losing streak, won road games at Southwest Whitfield and at Cass earlier in the season. However, Woodland will want to banish the memory of its most recent road trip — a 35-15 loss at Hiram.
To do so, Woodland will need to buck the history it has with Villa Rica. The Bartow County-based Wildcats have just one win in six tries against the Wildcats who straddle the Carroll-Douglas county line.
In fact, Woodland has only scored a total of three points in the teams’ past three meetings. This year seems likely to be much closer than last year’s 36-0 win for Villa Rica with Calpreps.com projecting a narrow 22-21 triumph on a neutral field.
If Woodland is able to exceed that projected 21-point total, it would go a long way towards seeing the Wildcats come away with a road win. For that to happen, Plott and Co. will need to have success against a defense that doesn’t hide what it does.
“They’re a 3-3 stack team, an odd front,” Plott said. “They appear to put their best athletes on defense. Even No. 1, Mecose Todd, plays some defense for them at linebacker. They just let their kids play. It seems like they keep things as simple as possible. It allows them to be aggressive and play fast.”
The straight-forward approach isn’t unheard of in this region. In fact, Woodland’s previous two opponents also utilized the strategy, as opposed to mixing things up in hopes of gaining an advantage.
“We’ve seen a little bit of both,” Plott said. “We’ve seen teams that send pressure from everywhere, and then we’ve seen teams like Rome and Carrollton that just line up and play. They let the kids read and react. They believe they’re going to be able to out-athlete you. We’ve seen both philosophies throughout the year.
“If our kids will take care of our responsibilities and what we’re supposed to do — know our blocking rules and make our checks when we’re supposed to make our checks — then it really wouldn’t matter a whole lot what they did. We just have to be able to line up, be more physical and play a little faster across the front of our offensive line.”
Friday’s road game will kick off a semi-grueling final schedule. After the trip to Villa Rica, Woodland concludes the regular season with a home game against East Paulding and an away contest at Kell.
All three of those opponents have identical 3-2 records in region play. Plott, frankly, thinks Woodland should be right there with them. However, a disappointing loss to Hiram has the Wildcats one game back of the jumbled 3-2 group, which also includes the Hornets.
Even still, Plott pointed out that Woodland remains in control of its own destiny — a situation plenty of teams would love to be in at this stage of the season. Winning out, which would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker over each of those teams, would certainly get the Wildcats into the playoffs.
“I think we should feel like we’re playing our best football, right now, going into the Villa Rica game,” Plott said. “Looking back on the season, I think the Hiram game is one we wish we could do again. I think the other two [losses] are what they are. Those two teams are exactly what we thought they are. Our kids fought, battled and didn’t give up. We gave them our best shot, and that’s all you can ask for sometimes.
“You know, we’re still in it. We’ve got three games left, and we control our own destiny. Even though we didn’t play well against Hiram and gave that one away, I think, we’re still in position to control what happens to us.”