The Woodland High football team came about 30 yards short of picking up its biggest win of the season Friday at East Paulding.
A last-minute drive by the Wildcats stalled with a turnover on downs just outside the red zone, and Woodland took a 17-14 loss in an exhilarating game in which there were two fourth-quarter lead changes and neither team was able to distance itself by more than a single score at any point in the game.
The two teams trading turnovers was the story of the first half, but Woodland and East Paulding trading fourth-quarter scores will be what the players remember the game by.
Woodland trailed10-6 at halftime, and the score remained stagnant through the entirety of the third quarter and nearly half of the fourth. However, just under the seven-minute mark, the Wildcats finally broke through with a big play on special teams. Jahseim Henry blocked a punt deep inside East Paulding territory. Woodland recovered at the 3-yard line, and senior Demarcus Williams punched the ball into the end zone on the very next play, and then again on the 2-point conversion to give the Wildcats a 14-10 lead with 6:44 left in the ballgame.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, though, East Paulding went right back down the field to score on a short touchdown run to make the score 17-14.
Woodland still had more than four minutes to come back and win the game, but after a few first downs, the Wildcats couldn’t convert on some pass plays late and turned the ball over on downs as the game clock ran out.
While Woodland took its late lead on a special teams play, it was special teams that resulted in the Wildcats falling in a hole early.
Jordan Harvey took the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to give East Paulding a 7-0 lead before a play could be run on offense for either team.
The remainder of the first half would see the two teams exchange big special teams plays and turnovers. A big punt return by East Paulding set the Raiders up inside the Woodland 5, but Woodland’s Jaden Johnson recovered a fumble in the end zone and returned it all the way back inside the East Paulding 15-yard line.
The Raiders, though, intercepted a Wildcat pass on the ensuing possession, but then fumbled it inside their own 5-yard line. Eli Jernigan recovered it for Woodland, leading to an Asa James short touchdown run. The 2-point conversion out of the swinging gate formation was unsuccessful for Woodland, so the Wildcats still trailed 7-6 as time expired in the first quarter.
After exchanging punts to start the second quarter, Woodland’s next turn to punt resulted in a bad snap, which forced a hurried, short punt that East Paulding returned inside the Woodland 10-yard line. The Wildcat defense was able to make a big defensive stand, though, and forced East Paulding into a field goal, limiting the damage to a 10-7 deficit.
That would be the halftime score, and after an uneventful third quarter, Woodland had the first scoring chance of the fourth quarter, but fumbled the ball away at the East Paulding 2-yard line. The Wildcats were aided that drive by three personal foul penalties on East Paulding, including one targeting call on fourth down to extend the drive.
Even though the Wildcats were unable to come away with points on that series due to the fumble, the field position did help Woodland when Henry blocked the punt to set up the Williams touchdown.
That set up the series of the events that ultimately resulted in a gut-wrenching loss for the Wildcats, who now drop to 1-8 on the year and 0-7 in Region 7-AAAAA.
The loss was by far Woodland’s closest in region play, and possibly was the Wildcats’ most impressive result of the year as East Paulding sits in the middle of the region standings at 3-4 now.
The Wildcats will look to salvage a win to end the year against a team that has already secured a state playoff spot in Kell at Wildcat Stadium next week.