Though such a feat may have seemed dubious just a couple of weeks ago when Woodland was mired in a winless, touchdown-less start to the season, the Wildcats (2-6, 2-6 Region 5-AAAAA) have emerged as a much more confident team and one that has the markings of a ballclub that is figuring out what it takes to win.
“We were able to run the football. We got some big first downs when we needed to,” Woodland coach Vince DiLorenzo said. “The defense rose up several times and stopped ’em when a touchdown would have meant a completely different ballgame, but they held ’em out of the end zone, always kept it to a two-score advantage for us. And then our kicking game, Jose Panigua deserves a lot of credit tonight. His punts kept ’em backed up, and so it was just the tenacity of our whole team [that was impressive].”
After leading 14-6 coming out of halftime, Woodland watched its first drive of the second half stall, which promptly set the stage for Lions running back James Ford’s 54-yard run. With the ball down to the Wildcats’ 4-yard line, DeAndre Gullat plowed in to pull his team within two.
Despite Lithia Springs failing to draw closer following a missed opportunity on the two-point conversion run, Woodland found itself looking at a team hungry for its first win — much like the Wildcats were a week earlier.
Woodland, however, showed the growth that has been apparent throughout the course of the season.
Beginning the ensuing drive at their own 37, the Wildcats swiftly entered Lithia Springs territory as quarterback Mason Robinson ran a draw play up the middle for a 36-yard gain. Two negative plays had Woodland facing third-and-13 from the Lion 30, but the Wildcats resorted to a little trickery — to the surprise and dismay of Lithia Springs.
Taking the shotgun snap from center, backup QB Tanner Self handed the ball to Quadre Allen, who ran left before pitching the ball backward to Robinson, who began the play at wide receiver. The ball firmly in his hands, Robinson uncorked a 30-yard bomb that came to rest in the arms of Mackenzie Borge, who had no one around him but a fellow Wildcat receiver a few yards away up the seam.
Panigua’s extra-point kick at the 6:25 mark of the third quarter gave Woodland a nine-point edge, the final margin.
“I think it was big that the offense was able to take it down and score and get it back to a two-score game,” DiLorenzo noted afterward. “Mason Robinson, I’ve to got to give him a lot of credit; he continues to get better and better.”
The Lions twice had the ball deep in Wildcat territory but faltered in their attempts to draw closer. A third-quarter drive ended at the 23 as Tikal Petty’s fourth-and-18 pass was way off the mark. In the fourth, Lithia Springs squandered a scoring opportunity after a Woodland interception, with the Wildcats blocking a 26-yard field goal attempt.
It was yet another example of the Wildcats making a play that the Lions just could not.
Woodland, however, did fall behind early in the first quarter, as Lithia Springs made the most of its field position. The Lions used just four plays to drive 52 yards, with Ford covering the last 12 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown run. Lithia Springs led 6-0 following a low snap that forced Petty to attempt a two-point pass that was broken up in the end zone.
Turns out the failed extra point was the first sign of things to come for the hosts.
While the Lions scored in a brisk minute and 50 seconds, the Wildcats responded with a clock-bleeding drive that lasted nearly six minutes and covered 65 yards.
On its march down the field, Woodland picked up key conversions, from Borge on third-and-5 from the Wildcat 41-yard line and again on Allen's 3-yard run on fourth-and-2 from the Lithia Springs 16.
Allen would tote the rock twice more, scoring from 5 yards to place Woodland ahead 7-6 following Panigua’s extra point with 4:24 remaining in the first.
The Wildcats nearly topped that 13-play drive in the second quarter. Woodland had a 12-play drive that included a pair of penalties from the Lions. The visitors faced just one third down on the 81-yard drive and only two second downs. Isaiah Ross, who has provided the Wildcats with a bruising element to their ground game since becoming the starting fullback, took two handoffs for 28 yards to close out the drive.
On his 18-yard TD run, Ross appeared to be wrapped up just shy of the first down, but the senior spun several Lithia Springs off of him as he bulled his way into the end zone. Panigua’s extra point with 3:15 left in the half put Woodland up 8 heading into the locker room.
Ross, the thunder to Allen’s lightning, helped the Wildcats duplicate their two-headed monster rushing game, which paved the way for Woodland’s first win of the season, 22-14 against Paulding County on Oct. 11. This time, it was Allen who eclipsed the 100-yard mark, finishing with 107 yards on 18 carries. Ross added 43 yards on nine carries as the Wildcats rushed for 228 yards.
“I think tonight those guys did what they did last week — they fed off each other, the blocked for one another; [the] offensive line did a good job,” DiLorenzo said.
Woodland, which began its season a week earlier than most on Aug. 23, gets its second bye of the year next Friday before returning Nov. 1 for its homecoming game with Hiram.