Woodland football fans hoping for a bounce-back season following last year's one-win campaign could be in luck. Not only are the Wildcats bringing back a much more experienced group but also the team …
Woodland football fans hoping for a bounce-back season following last year's one-win campaign could be in luck. Not only are the Wildcats bringing back a much more experienced group but also the team has a much easier schedule.
The program released its 2020 slate earlier this week, and while the new-look Region 7-AAAAA will remain difficult, the schedule includes four non-region games against teams coming off seasons with three or fewer wins.
Finding the right non-region teams to fill out the schedule proved difficult for Woodland head coach Tony Plott. He admitted the Wildcats had no shortage of options for certain weeks, but selecting the right opponents still made for a stressful period.
"It was a challenge," Plott said. "Travel was obviously a concern. ... It was a struggle to kind of narrow it down to what we thought was a real competitive schedule."
In the end, the schedule worked out fairly well. Woodland opens the regular season Aug. 21 at Class 2A Gordon Central, which went 3-7 last year, before a trip to 6A Osborne, coming off a winless season. Following a bye week, the Wildcats face a couple of fellow 5A teams in North Springs and Chamblee, which each won a single game in 2019.
Woodland's final non-region game will seemingly be its most difficult — a Sept. 25 trip to Union County. The Panthers went 10-2 last season, falling in the second round of the 2A state playoffs.
That game wasn't on the original schedule for the Wildcats. However, a contest previously scheduled between the Osborne and North Springs dates fell through. Left with few options at that point, Woodland moved its open date to accommodate the game against Union County.
"We did have a game scheduled during our first off week and that didn't work out," Plott said. "We had to schedule someone else, so now, it's eight games in a row. We didn't want it that way, but it just worked out that way, unfortunately.
"But I think [the schedule] worked out for us and the teams we are playing against."
In addition to the new batch of non-region foes, Woodland will also be playing an unfamiliar opponent in its preseason scrimmage in nearby Model. The teams have never met in the regular season, but they will face off Aug. 7 in an exhibition.
The scrimmage will take place a week before most others, including the other three Bartow County teams, as it will occur two weeks before the opening Friday of the season.
"What I really wanted was having that week off between our scrimmage and our first game just to correct the mistakes we needed to, to focus on us, focus on our opponent and have that extra week of preparation," Plott said of the reasoning. "We do so much during the summer that I don't know that it's going to hurt us that much not having that extra week of practice before the scrimmage."
Plott would have also preferred a week off before the beginning of region play. With every team in the league taking off the final week of the season, it would have meant the Wildcats would only played five games in a row without a break.
Regardless, the revamped region will be smaller, but still challenging. Woodland, Cass and Hiram are the only returnees from the current nine-team iteration. Joining the trio is Blessed Trinity, Calhoun and Cartersville. Three programs with plenty of recent success.
"I think it's a good football region," Plott said. "All six schools play good football. There's the rivalries between Cass and Cartersville, us and Cass and, hopefully, us and Cartersville could be a big rivalry also.
"It's good for Bartow County, and it's good for everybody around us."
Woodland begins region action Oct. 2 at Blessed Trinity, which is coming off a third straight 4A state championship. Next up are consecutive home games against Cass and Calhoun. Following a short bus ride to Weinman Stadium to face the Canes for the first time since 2007, the Wildcats will host the Hornets to finish out the schedule.
Overall, the proximity of the region should be beneficial to the program.
"We were real lucky," Plott said of the region schedule. "We have Cass at home this year and Cartersville at home next year, so that's good for us to have them staggered. ... It's real good for our gates.
"The other schools we have in our region are also good football teams, and they'll have good gates, I think."
As excited as fans should be about the upcoming schedule, the Woodland players should be even more thrilled. Plott said there has been a noticeably positive vibe within the program since the team was notified of the new set of games.
"Our kids saw it, and they were excited," Plott said of the schedule. "They're really excited about the teams we're playing. They're excited about the new region. They're excited about still playing Cass. Cartersville is new to us, so they're excited about that. ...
"There seems to be a new focus about them, and they've done a great job so far."