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Wildcats with "long row to hoe"

Brad Stephens, Bartow Sports Zone

Brad Stephens brings his own Southern flavored sports perspective and humor to Bartow Sports Zone. He is a Bartow County native and an attorney in Cartersville, but he's mostly a Georgia Bulldogs' football fan. Brad is also part of the Bartow Sports Zone broadcast team and provides color commentary during the Johnny's NY Style Pizza of Cartersville, Bartow County Game of the Week Friday nights in the fall. He is also a co-host of the Bartow Sports Zone radio show each Friday morning 7-9am on 100.3FM and AM1450, WBHF. He is also author of "Reflections in Muddy Water, Layin' Drag on life's highway in Cassville, Georgia."

“They got a long row to hoe.”

That is a saying that old men in Cassville used when somebody was having a hard time. Growing up working at my dad’s store, I heard the overall-clad Greatest Generation members say that phrase hundreds of times, mostly in reference to somebody’s wayward children, a marriage going sour or the Atlanta Braves.

Last night in Woodstock, the Woodland Wildcats’ row was longer than the Chattahoochee River. On a rainy night before a raucous River Ridge crowd on Senior Night, the Wildcats took it on the chin early and never recovered as the Knights controlled both sides of the ball in a 36-8 victory over Tony Plott’s young squad.

The result was surprising to me, as I met with Coach Plott earlier this week and I felt a quiet confidence in him leading up to Friday night. Despite having over fifty freshmen and sophomores on the roster, Woodland did not appear to be apprehensive in practice. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Brody Williams was making his pitches to Justice Carter on option plays, defenders were filling gaps in the walk-throughs and flying to the ball on simulated pass plays. Emmanuel Jones, the resident man-child of the team, appeared to be loose and confident. The entire team was miffed at the thought of being the away team at another school’s Senior Night. That bulletin board material was a perfect segue to a potential Wildcat victory.

Coach Plott could not have foreseen the disastrous first quarter that was marked by Wildcat miscues on special teams, the defense getting caught flat-footed and twenty unanswered points by the Knights, who almost seemed as surprised as Woodland. The Knights are coming off a dismal 1-9 season with very little hype behind the 2016 squad, but on this night, they looked like world-beaters. The Knights scored on their first and second offensive plays of the game, mainly due to excellent field position and a lack of execution by Woodland.

The Knights completely owned the line of scrimmage and for Woodland and their Wing T attack, that cannot happen. Brody Williams was unable to get any kind of rhythm going and took several hard hits that definitely caused some cringing up in the press box. He is not a sizeable young man, so Woodland cannot afford defensive ends and tackles hitting him with a full head of steam. To his credit, he kept up the fight and did all he could to keep Woodland in the game.

Carter and Demarcus Williams tried to find yardage where they could, but frankly, River Ridge’s pursuit was just too much. Gaps closed quickly and long yardage plays were as rare as cheese grits in New York City. After spotting the Knights a thirty-six point lead in the first half, the ‘Cats just could not muster a comeback of any kind. Other than a couple of pass plays in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats did not move the ball consistently against the stingy River Ridge defense.

Where does Woodland go from here? The Wildcats have to find some building blocks from this defeat and move on, as the schedule only gets harder. I know Coach Plott will watch the game film, apply the lessons learned on Friday night and hope his young team responds. They took some lumps last night, but Woodland needs to have a short memory right now.

Due to reclassification, Woodland now sits in a region with Kell, East Paulding, Rome and Carrollton, all of which are ranked in the top ten by at least one publication. Another region opponent, Paulding County, sits just outside the top ten according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You cannot forget cross-town rival Cass, Hiram, and Villa Rica, who surprised many people by beating Central of Carrollton last night. Clearly, the ‘Cats cannot dwell on this loss with a virtual Murderers’ Row coming down the pipe.

I believe Coach Plott and the players can fix their issues in the off week and start anew against non-region foe Rockmart on September 2. The Yellow Jackets thrashed Cherokee County (AL) 54-28 over in Centre last night and the Wildcats will be “bringing to the Rock” when they tee it up. You can bet the Polk County natives will be restless and ready, as they always tend to be.

That long row is just going to get longer in 7-AAAAA. Hopefully, Woodland can rebound against Rockmart and be the confident squad I saw on the practice field last week.

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