Unfortunately for coach Vincent DiLorenzo’s team, the search continues for the chemistry needed to re-stoke Woodland’s offensive firepower.
A week removed from a season-opening loss that featured a field goal as their only points, the Wildcats were not even that lucky against host Allatoona. Woodland yielded 50 points to the Buccaneers in a shutout defeat that dropped the Wildcats to 0-2 overall, and in Region 5-AAAAA.
“… We’re searching for something to hang our hat on, something that we can do well, and we haven’t found that yet,” DiLorenzo said.
Entering the season, Woodland seemed hopeful that a serviceable defense, spearheaded by stalwart linebacker Isaiah Ross, could be its calling card until starter Mason Robinson and the rest of the Wildcat offense could get up to speed.
However, Woodland’s offensive struggles have derailed any hope for sustained momentum.
“When you create things, either offensively or defensively, that attitude rubs off on everybody, whether it be the kicking team or offense or defense. And then, opposite of that, when you don’t do anything, that feeling rubs off on everybody else,” DiLorenzo noted. “We haven’t done anything good yet, and so when you don’t do anything good, it’s only a matter of time before kids begin to get down and not hustle quite as much; plays that they would have made, they’re a step behind.”
Woodland’s defense forced Allatoona into three third-down situations on the game’s opening drive, but the Bucs converted each time, including on a 6-yard sweep to the right by Josh Bettistea, whose touchdown run capped the home side’s longest scoring drive of the night at 11 plays. Bettistea also added another touchdown run in the second quarter, a dazzling 40-yarder that included a stiff-arm and race up the sideline and into paydirt.
Aside from its first drive, Allatoona did not need more than four plays on the remainder of its scoring drives. Russell Halimon’s 3-yard run put the Bucs ahead 14-0 with 5:37 left in the first — a drive setup by Halimon himself, after a 36-yard punt return to the Wildcat 13.
One of last year’s Class AAAAA quarterfinalists, Allatoona — long known for its running prowess — acquainted itself with the aerial attack in the second quarter, sandwiching two Conor Larson-to-Antonio Ezell touchdown passes around another score. Ezell’s second touchdown grab — his first came on a 12-yard fade — was made on a 5-yard slant route that Larson managed to rifle over the head of Woodland linebacker Phelan Philpot; the score paced the Bucs to a 36-0 lead following a two-point conversion.
Halimon added a 43-yard touchdown on a toss to the left side to give his team a 43-point edge with 2:47 remaining before the half. The score effectively ended the night for Allatoona’s varsity. (The junior varsity Bucs scored on Bryant Dallas’s 16-yard, fourth-quarter run to complete the night’s scoring.)
Likewise, the Wildcats also made some changes in the second quarter, moving Robinson from his starting quarterback position to wide receiver, a position he played the previous two seasons. Reserve QB Tanner Self completed a 21-yard pass to Philpot on his first throw and added three more completions in the second half before giving way to third-stringer Mitchell Taylor, who closed out the game.
Of the quarterback changes, DiLorenzo noted he was trying to give his offense a jump-start following several weeks of struggles, which began with a scrimmage loss to Cartersville and continued with last week’s 27-3 defeat at Villa Rica.
“When you don’t score any points for three games in a row, I think offensively you evaluate everything, from the guy that’s in charge of it — which is me — to where you have people, to the plan. To say that we’re gonna keep doing the what we’ve been doing on offense and expect something to change, that doesn’t seem to make too much sense,” the third-year Woodland coach said.
DiLorenzo acknowledged Robinson, who faced constant pressure, needed a momentary position switch but will be hard at work in practice Monday.
Meanwhile, the search for the Wildcats’ offensive spark continues.
Said DiLorenzo: “He [Robinson] needed to be moved off and needed to get a change of scenery … and Tanner [Self] has been working hard … and … you never know what’s going to be the right mix, ’cause there’s gonna be a right mix eventually for us on offense.”
After playing two road games to start the season, Woodland welcomes East Paulding to Wildcat Stadium Friday, Sept. 6, for its home opener.
Just like Allatoona, the Raiders won 11 games last year, and they proved to be the standard-bearer in the region, winning the region title before losing for the first and only time in the second round of the playoffs.
The Wildcats are scheduled to kick off against East Paulding at 7:30 p.m.