That all changed Friday night at Woodland High as the Wildcats scored three touchdowns against Paulding County and defeated the Patriots by a score of 22-14 thanks to five turnovers.
“Well, I’ll tell you, the monkey off my back was scoring,” Woodland head coach Vince DiLorenzo said. “That was about as much pressure as anything, seeing if we could score tonight.”
The Wildcats had scored three points all season, but it was not just the offense that raised its level of play during the victory. Four fumble recoveries, one interception and several effective punts from Jose Panigua gave Woodland excellent field position the entire game.
However, for the first 20 minutes of the contest, Paulding appeared to be the better team.
The Patriots scored two touchdowns in the first half on long pass plays to give them a 14-0 lead heading into the latter stages of the first half.
“They scored on plays that we felt we had covered,” DiLorenzo said of Paulding’s touchdowns.
The Patriots had the ball and were looking to score again with five minutes remaining in the half when Khalil Morris made a game-changing play. Morris hit Paulding’s quarterback behind the line of scrimmage as he attempted to pitch the ball. The big hit resulted in a fumble, which Woodland picked up, giving the Wildcats momentum. It was Morris’ second forced fumble of the game.
It looked like nothing would come of the turnover as Woodland was in danger of going three-and-out. However, Isaiah Ross burst through the line and carried defenders inside Paulding’s 10-yard line for a first down on a third-and-short to give the Wildcats new life. Woodland would score two plays later as quarterback Mason Robinson connected with wide receiver Mackenzie Borge on a slant route for a 12-yard score, the team’s first of the year.
The Woodland crowd let out a loud roar, energized to finally reach the end zone.
“The crowd was going crazy,” junior defensive lineman Damek Lewis said. “Even though we lost the first six games, the fans have always been supporting us.”
Despite trailing 14-7 at halftime and getting outgained 169-83, the Wildcats possessed the momentum heading into the second half thanks to the touchdown.
Their momentum only increased when they scored on the first possession of the half on a five-play drive, taking just over two minutes. The drive was capped by a Ross 9-yard run. Ross had four carries for 28 yards on the drive and senior running back Quadre Allen mixed in one of his own for 21 yards. Woodland trailed 14-13 after the extra point attempt was missed.
“I think Isaiah Ross running the football was the big momentum boost for us,” DiLorenzo said.
On the first play of Paulding’s opening drive, sophomore defensive back Jarvis James recovered a fumble after a botched pitch on the option allowed Woodland to regain possession. Of Paulding’s four fumbles, three came on exchanges between the quarterback and running back.
After a three-and-out, Panigua landed a punt inside Paulding’s 5-yard line. On third down of the ensuing possession, Lewis picked up a fumble near the 7-yard line and ran it in for the defensive touchdown to make the score 20-14 after the extra point was converted.
“We were just trying to make plays on defense,” Lewis said of his team’s ability to force turnovers. “The crowd got us all pumped up and was going crazy and everybody was just going crazy.”
It did not take long for Woodland to force a fifth turnover when Borge stepped in front of an out route by a Paulding receiver for an interception.
“Our defense just did outstanding tonight,” DiLorenzo said. “That’s something that helped us, but we knew our defense would be outstanding. It was just a matter of putting some points on the board.”
Woodland was unable to score points off the turnover, but Panigua was able to use the field position gained off the interception to drop a punt inside the Paulding 20-yard line.
After two incomplete passes and a tackle by Lewis in the backfield, Paulding was forced to punt. The punt gave Morris a chance to make another play on defense as he blocked the punt out of bounds for a Patriots safety and a 22-14 lead.
Woodland would not allow a first down in the third quarter and would not surrender any points in the second half to close out the win.
Paulding’s quarterback completed just 1 of 7 passes in the second half for three yards, no touchdowns and an interception. James contributed to the defensive effort as he and Allen each knocked down passes in the final four minutes of the game.
“It was just a great game coming back and I’m glad we won,” Lewis said. “It’s just a great night. It’s a new beginning for us.”
On defense, Lewis had a fumble recovery for a touchdown, five tackles and a sack in the game. Meanwhile, Morris had a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, a blocked punt for a safety, five tackles and a sack.
Both Lewis and Morris had been recuperating from injuries earlier this season and were able to get healthy following the bye week.
“The bye definitely helped us,” DiLorenzo said. “We just talked to the kids about staying the course and keep working and we knew we had a chance.”
Offensively, Ross had 15 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown. The senior linebacker/running back has come on the last few games as a power running threat, breaking tackles and churning out extra yardage after contact. And if Ross is the thunder, Allen is the lightning. Allen ran eight times for 49 yards and caught four passes for 36 yards.
The pair has combined to give the Wildcats the running game that has been missing. The ground game accounted for 159 of their 224 yards of total offense.
DiLorenzo hopes the newly found running game and the victory can help his squad the last three games of the season.
“It’s a lot easier to practice when you win, so I’m proud of the players and proud of the coaches for sticking with it,” he said. “It’s good to win one. I’m happy for the players. I’m happy for the coaches, but we have to move on to Lithia Springs next week.”