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Week 4 Notebook: Canes in rare company, Woodland making waves

RANDY PARKER/THE DAILY TRIBUNE NEWS
Cartersville linebacker Carson Murray brings down a Westlake ballcarrier during a game at Westlake Friday.

BEST IN STATE? — Following Cartersville’s 38-5 win over Westlake Friday, 247 recruiting analyst Rusty Mansell tweeted, “There is going to be some talk about the Canes being [the] best team in Georgia soon.”

There are many ways to judge teams that, because they’re in different classes, won’t play each other head-to-head or compete for the same state championship.

For example, the game that inspired Mansell’s tweet was a blowout win over Westlake, which lost in the Class 7A semifinals last year.

That loss was 28-0 against Roswell, which went on to lose the state championship game 23-20 to Grayson. Cartersville had beaten Westlake 31-0 earlier in the year.

Teams change throughout the season, but beating Westlake by more than Roswell, which was a play or two away from being 7A champion, is a decent sign that last year’s Cartersville team might have legitimately had a claim to being the best team in the state—or at least would have been competitive with Roswell and Grayson.

Another way to judge is to look at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Maxwell ratings, which put every team in the state on the same scale.

Per Maxwell, Cartersville this year has an 88.59 rating and is still behind three 7A teams—Grayson (99.09), Colquitt County (93.42) and Mill Creek (90.98).

Similar to the Maxwell rankings are the Calpreps rankings, which rank every team in the country and allow fans—and curious newspaper reporters—to simulate the result of a game between any two teams in the nation.

Per those, the Canes are third in the state, behind 7A teams Grayson and Lowndes.

So, by any measure, Cartersville is at least right up there among the best teams in the state of Georgia, an immense accomplishment for a 4A school.

And, for those curious about a hypothetical matchup between the Canes and the Grayson Rams?

On a neutral field, Calpreps has Grayson winning it by a razor-thin margin, 28-26.

OFFSIDE SHENANIGANS — The prospect of trying to stop the juggernaut Cartersville offense had Westlake’s defense, understandably, very jumpy, and the Canes took advantage of it.

Cartersville quarterback Trevor Lawrence drew the Lions offsides three times in the first half alone, picking up 15 free yards for his team.

One penalty converted a second-and-1, and then other two cut a first-and-10 and a second-and-10 in half.

After being victimized twice on the first two drives and three times altogether, Westlake tightened up its discipline in the second half and managed to avoid offside calls.

“There are just certain times that we like to use that,” Cartersville coach Joey King said. “They did a good job making adjustments and fixing that in the second half, though.”

They didn’t need it it Friday, but if they run into a close game in the playoffs, the ability to pick up five free yards at a crucial time could mean the difference for the Canes.

NOT SO BUSY — The Cartersville defense was good as ever Friday, holding the Westlake starters to just three points in a 38-5 win, but it didn’t come with the requisite amount of stats that would be associated with great defending.

By the Daily Tribune’s count, JaCorey Johns led the Canes with just four tackles.

The reason is that the Cartersville defenders were almost too good to rack up the stats that would, for example, garner a Sunday Standouts nod.

By forcing constant three-and-outs, the Canes restricted the number of plays in which to record stats.

For example, Westlake went three-and-out on its first three drives of the game, so halfway through the second quarter, the Cartersville defense had been on the field for just nine snaps.

Also contributing to the low numbers was the balanced Westlake attack, which featured a number of incomplete passes that did not, of course, provide the opportunity for a tackle, and the fact that the majority of the defensive starters left with the rest of the first unit after three quarters.

WOODLAND MAKING WAVES — In most circumstances, a team winning a game doesn’t make for much news. But those teams are not the Woodland Wildcats.

After failing to win a game since Sept. 2015, Woodland is 2-1 and has won two in a row.

The Wildcats have been the butt of jokes for so long that anything to the contrary raises more than a few eyebrows.

That gets amplified when the latest win comes against the Cass Colonels, who prior to this year had outclassed the Wildcats.

Cass had beaten Woodland every year dating back to 2011.

Woodland head coach Tony Plott was 0-2 in his first two matchups against Cass.

But through a combination of smart game planning and an ability to execute on offense, the Wildcats got on the bus back to Woodland a winner.

And the community has taken notice, with jokes of “We want Cartersville” emanating from the Wildcat faithful and many expressing surprise at how their season has gone so far.

The schedule gets more difficult from here for Woodland, but for now, there is a lot of positive energy flowing through the Woodland program. Before this year, that’s been a rarity.

The road team student section stormed the field after the clock hit zero — unorthodox to say the least.

To his credit, Cass head coach Bobby Hughes took no issue with it, and said he understood the place it came from.

Woodland running back Demarcus Williams loved seeing the display of pride, and said he hopes to see it continue. Of course, that would mean his team keeps winning.

Woodland football is 2-1 and riding high off a two-game win streak. Soak it all in, Wildcat fans.

GONYEA A BRIGHT SPOT — Perhaps the only time Cass fans could cheer for an ordinate amount of time came off a beautiful fourth down conversion when the team really needed it.

Logan Nelson reared back on fourth-and-11 and found a streaking Gonyea for a 37-yard touchdown.

It gave Cass a glimmer of hope and pulled them within a score.

Cass’ offense had trouble converting on big plays — there were a few times when a pass was overthrown by a few yards that could’ve led to a touchdown.

The result probably would’ve been a lot different. But Gonyea was able to haul in one of those passes, accounting for the only Cass touchdown of the night.

Cass will likely study that play to see how it can replicate this success as it looks to rebound from an 0-3 start.

HIDDEN BALL TRICKS — It can’t be emphasized enough how tricky the Woodland offense can be.

This is a statement in direct contrast with the simplicity in which plays are called, each from a base set that gives the quarterback some independence to keep it himself or hand it off.

Woodland will have the decoy back run three or four yards once the ball is snapped to fool the defense into thinking he has the ball.

Meanwhile, the ball carrier is already four or five yards down the field. There were countless plays where it was difficult to determine who exactly had the ball for Woodland.

It’s one thing to understand how to defend a scheme. It’s another to have to adjust to the nuances that any given play within that might present.

That was the challenge Cass found itself facing Friday night.

Six different Woodland players carried the ball.

On any given play, four different players could be given the ball.

That’s a lot of spying and adjusting to do, and it’s why Woodland was able to have so much success on the ground, nearly reaching 300 yards at 289.

This offense isn’t a new or novel concept on the Wildcats’ part.

They’ve just become more efficient at running it, and have the personnel to run it effectively and intelligently.

Because of it, they’ve gotten to stop answering questions about a losing streak and in many circles are the talk of the county.

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