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Wildcats prepare for final home game of season

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While not mathematically eliminated, Woodland’s shot at making the playoffs is almost nonexistent.

It’s not a one-in-a-million chance. Actually, the odds are two in a million, at least according to Maxwell Ratings’ latest playoff predictions. The weekly simulation runs through 1,000,000 possible seasons, and this week, the Wildcats made the playoffs exactly twice.

It’s tied for the second-lowest odds for any team still mathematically alive. Only Class 3A East Jackson has a literal one-in-a-million shot.

Needless to say, it would take a wild set of circumstances for Woodland to claw through as the No. 4 seed from the rugged Region 7-AAAAA. The Wildcats (4-4, 2-4) currently sit seventh in the standings.

It would seem to be the only scenario, which apparently plays out two in a million times, that gets Woodland into the postseason would involve a four-way tie for fourth with Kell, East Paulding and Hiram.

Kell would probably be eliminated having gone winless, in this scenario, against those other three teams. In that case, a series of mini-games between Woodland, Hiram and East Paulding, which each finished 1-1 against each other, would likely determine the region’s No. 4 seed.

The only part of that the Wildcats control is games with the Raiders (tonight) and the Longhorns (Nov. 2). For all intents and purposes, it marks the final two games of the season for Woodland and the final two games of the career for the senior class.

Tonight will mark the final home game for the group that has helped turn the program around. Coming off last week’s 36-8 loss to Villa Rica, in which Woodland led 8-7 at halftime, Wildcats head coach Tony Plott said his team has been frustrated by what might have been.

“There’s been a little bit of disappointment,” Plott said. “I think we felt like we could have been a little bit better this year. I know what the scores said against Hiram and Villa Rica, but I think our kids feel like we kind of hurt ourselves in those two games. It put us in the position we are now. It’s our own fault. …

“They may not show it right now, but Friday night, when they walk off the field, they’ll be upset. There will be tears, I’m sure, because it will be the last time they play on that field.”

With the Villa Rica loss all but knocking his team out of postseason contention, Plott said his staff has started focusing a little bit more on developing underclassmen in practice.

“We’ve kind of started working in some of the younger kids this week, and we’ll continue doing so next week,” Plott said. “We just want to work to get better. We have this week and a game, and then next week and a game. It’s basically the equivalent of spring practice, where we can try to get better, get a jump on things and try to continue to get better as a football program.”

However, the fourth-year head coach made it clear, come Friday nights, his seniors would still get the vast majority of the playing time. In fact, his hope is to get some of the 12th-graders who aren’t regulars a chance to contribute.

“We don’t want to take that away from them,” Plott said of playing his seniors. “If a situation occurs, where we can get some younger guys in for a few reps, then we will. But we’re not going to take away any reps from our seniors. We’re actually trying to find ways to get more seniors on the field.”

Those seniors could get an up-close look at Tyrell Robinson tonight. The senior running back, who had four touchdowns against Cass, is one of the main reasons the Raiders (4-4, 4-2) are among the teams battling for the playoffs in the region.

East Paulding enters the night in a four-way tie for second place. A win tonight wouldn’t guarantee the Raiders a playoff bid, but it would go a long way towards helping them secure a top-three seed.

“They’re explosive on offense,” Plott said of what’s made East Paulding successful. “Their running back, No. 15 [Robinson], is very good. He’s one of the best we’ve seen, very fast. Defensively, they’re very physical. They’re a good football team, well coached.”

While the East Paulding offense has a pretty simple game plan — get the ball to Robinson and let him do his thing — the team’s defense likely will adjust to what Woodland is doing. It’s something that makes game planning for the Wildcats a little bit harder.

“They’re a 3-4. They usually play a cover-four,” Plott said of the Raiders base defense. “They have three big guys up front. The two ends and nose guard are big, physical kids. The two outside linebackers are good athletes. They can drop in coverage or come off the edge. Both inside linebackers are good ballplayers. The DBs all appear to be very well coached and good athletes.”

That being said, based on what East Paulding did last year, Woodland will likely see more of a 6-2 or 5-4 look. Essentially, Plott has to look at how a team likes to defend in short-yardage and goal-line situations and how region teams approached prior meetings to get a gauge on what to expect.

“If we’ve played them before, we’ll look at how they played us last year,” Plott said. “… That’s the first thing that we’ll do, and then we’ll look at the film from this year. Our spread stuff is real similar to everyone else, so it’s real easy to see what they do against it. When we’re in the [Wing-]T, we try to look at the short-yardage stuff. Any time someone lines up in a short-yardage, two-tight end look, we see how they adjust to that, and that’s what we go off of.”

No matter how East Paulding lines up defensively, Woodland needs to be better on the offensive side of the ball than they were last week. In their two tipping-point games this season (against Hiram and Villa Rica), the Wildcats have been bullied at the line of scrimmage.

A Woodland-esque game of controlling the ball and controlling the clock could be enough to pose a serious threat to East Paulding, who has had trouble putting teams away this year. It might also be enough to keep those razor-thin playoff hopes alive.

“We’ve got to play better along the offensive line; we’ve got to move the ball; we’ve got to get first downs to keep No. 15 [Robinson] on the sideline as much as possible; and we need to control the clock,” Plott said of keys to victory. “We’ve got to play better on offense. If we’re able to do that, we’ll be in pretty good shape and we’ll have a chance.”

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Lady ‘Cats blow past competition with perfect score!

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There was no need for the Woodland High girls cross country team to check the final results to see where it finished in the Region 7-AAAA championship Thursday.

The Lady Wildcats occupied the top five spots on their home course, and knew full well they had earned a perfect score of 15, as was expected of them.

Having blown away the competition for a perfect score at the region meet for the third consecutive year, the Woodland coaches were more concerned with how their runners were progressing. It’s a luxury only a program as dominant as Woodland can have at an important meet like the region championship.

“The first thing we did after the meet is we pulled up times from the last three times we ran on this course and we wanted to see improvements,” WHS girls coach Matthew Landolt said. “Overall, four of our six girls actually ran stronger times than they’ve ever posted here before. So, as a team, we’re becoming more and more fierce.”

The fact that most of the Lady Wildcats are getting faster is especially important this time of the year with the state championship meet approaching on Nov. 3 in Carrollton. Woodland is ranked second in Class 5A and has a chance, albeit as an underdog, for a second state championship in three years.

While the Woodland boys didn’t run away from the pack like the girls, they also had an impressive showing by making state for a third consecutive year. It is the first time the program has accomplished the feat.

Woodland finished second in the region, behind only Rome, which happens to be the highest finish for the Wildcats at the region championship in program history.

Considering the boys’ previous times this year had them ranked in fourth coming into the region championship, the second-place result was better than expected.

“It was pretty tight going into region because there was a five-way group. It could have been any of us taking the top four spots,” Woodland boys coach Rob Forbes said. “The guys knew that and they really just worked hard and came together as a team to pull it out.”

The course at “The Rock” on the campus of Woodland High is known for its one big, steep hill, and runners don’t often post personal bests. However, Dylan Stermer was the exception Thursday with his fourth-place finish and personal record of 17:18.

John Shropshire, usually the team’s top runner, was battling injury but still gutted out a seventh-place finish with a time of 17:28.

“John had a little injury so he didn’t have his greatest race,” Forbes said. “So Dylan stepped up and took the lead there, so that helped us out a lot.”

Rounding out Woodland’s scorers, John Forsyth, Patrick Bollwerk and Kobe Cochran ran as a pack for the first time this season and occupied the 16-18 spots with times under 18:30. That proved to be the difference in beating out Carrollton for the No. 2 spot in the region, as Carrollton’s 3, 4 and 5 runners all placed in the 20s.

While every point counted for the boys to make state, the girls were racing against themselves. McKenna Trapheagen broke her own course record set earlier in the year with a time of 18:24 as she prepares to run for an individual state title on Nov. 3.

Tess Cochran in second at 19:16, Carli Clymer in third at 19:29 and Baylee Evans in fourth at 19:59 also ran their best times at their home course. Rylee Evans was right there with them at 20:13, and Cheyenne Spinks was less than three seconds away from giving Woodland the top six results. She finished seventh at a still-impressive time of 20:28.

The girls are state championship contenders and should finish no worse than second at state. The boys, meanwhile, have a much wider range of possible outcomes in Carrollton next week. They are likely to finish somewhere between 11-20, but the biggest goal for the year was to make state, and that was accomplished Thursday.

That doesn’t mean the Wildcats won’t be setting their sights high in Carrollton, though.

“It looks like we’re maybe 17th going in, but our goal is we’d like to finish in the top 10,” Forbes said. “Or at least give Rome a run and try to beat them at state.”