However, Friday’s region matchup at home against Rome will be a telling indicator of how far the Wildcats have really come since the first six games.
“They’re one of the best defensive teams we’ll see all year. They’re a 4-3 look team, but they’ve got athletes at every position, and they’re very talented and very athletic defensively,” head coach Vince DiLorenzo said of Rome. “They beat East Paulding a few weeks ago, and that’s how much better they have gotten. They’re a team that has improved every week.”
Rome is in the playoff hunt and may qualify for the fourth seed in Region 5-AAAAA if the team beats Woodland and gets a little help from other teams. Therefore, defeating Rome would be Woodland’s most impressive victory this season.
“We’ve had to raise our level of play each week, and this week, we’ll have to play better than we have all year because Rome is that good,” DiLorenzo said. “There’s no doubt that we are going to have to play better than we have played all year in order to beat Rome, so in that regard, that’ll mean that we have progressed. And yeah, it is a way to measure how far we’ve come.”
Rome is currently 5-4 on the season and recently lost to Villa Rica in overtime, a team Woodland lost to in the beginning of the season. The week before, Rome handled Lithia Springs, 36-12. On Oct. 18, the Wolves defeated East Paulding by a score of 35-27. Woodland lost to East Paulding, 30-0, all the way back on Sept. 6.
The Wildcats have improved significantly since that loss and have found an identity as a stout defensive team and ball control offense.
However, it will be difficult to run the ball Friday. According to DiLorenzo, Rome will likely put several defenders near the line of scrimmage and dare quarterback Mason Robinson to throw the ball against single coverage in the Rome secondary.
“At every position on defense, they’re not afraid to lock up man and put seven or eight people in the box,” DiLorenzo said.
Offensively, Rome has two senior running backs who have accumulated nearly 1,000 yards on the season in Frank Griffin and Myron Washington.
“Their running backs run hard,” DiLorenzo said. “They’re a Wing-T team, so they make you defend the entire field, but they are especially effective off tackle and to the outside.”
It is important for Woodland to win the game to improve the team’s overall record, but Friday’s game carries an even greater significance for the Wildcats. Going from a winless team through six games to having a four-game win streak to finish out the season would be an incredible turn of events and something the team can be proud of, despite not qualifying for the playoffs.
“After the North Paulding game, when it wasn’t close and they physically pounded us, we didn’t quit when it would have been easy to pack it in,” DiLorenzo said of Woodland’s 0-6 start. “We told the players to stick with it because we can see, down the road, where we have the potential to win these last four games. And how great it would be to win the last four.
“It says a lot about our coaches, our seniors and players, who stuck it out and did what we asked them to do.”
The game will be especially meaningful for the seniors. For many of them, it will be their last time putting on football pads.
“We started playing [Rome] my first year and we haven’t beaten them, so beating Rome would be big because our boundary really goes right up to their boundary,” DiLorenzo said. “Winning the last four games and beating a quality team like Rome, I really don’t think you can measure how big this would be for the seniors to win on Friday.”