Following his first taste of the Cass-Woodland rivalry, Colonels head coach Steve Gates walked over to Wildcats quarterback Johnathan Thomas, put his arm around him and spoke to him for a brief …
Following his first taste of the Cass-Woodland rivalry, Colonels head coach Steve Gates walked over to Wildcats quarterback Johnathan Thomas, put his arm around him and spoke to him for a brief moment. The senior was on crutches after suffering a leg injury during the rivalry meeting Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
Thomas had exited the game following a 22-yard run on the opening play of the second half. He initially tried to walk the injury off on the sideline before being given crutches for the remainder of the night.
Cass held a 7-6 lead at halftime, and although Woodland wound up taking the lead on a field goal that initial second-half series, the Colonels eventually pulled away for a 28-9 victory.
Gates didn't mince words when discussing the impact Thomas' injury had on the matchup.
"I think the outcome of the game would have been a little bit different if [Thomas] didn't get injured," Gates said. "I hate it for him. He's a senior. That's not what this game is about. I can't stand it. He's a helluva football player. I hate it for him."
While Thomas' absence certainly helped the Cass defense, it was the improvement of the Colonels offense over the final two periods that allowed the visitors to earn the Region 7-AAAAA victory.
"Finally, we started running the football," Gates said. "... We ran the football well in the second half, and that's the difference in this football game."
Quarterback Devin Henderson ran 21 yards on a third-and-18 to extend Cass' opening drive of the second half. On second-and-24 from the Woodland 27-yard line, Henderson hit Tanayce Calhoun on a short pass that the senior took to the house.
The Colonels (6-1, 1-1) would not relinquish the lead.
Josh Varnum helped make sure of that. The senior running back broke off a pair of 55-yard runs. His first set up a 1-yard touchdown on a QB sneak by Henderson late in the third quarter, and his second resulted in the game-sealing touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
"He waited his turn, and then he jumped on his opportunity," Gates said, noting Varnum's limited first-half work. "That's a testament to his attitude and his demeanor. He's a team player."
Woodland (3-1, 0-1) came out strong in its first game since Sept. 25 after having two games canceled and a third postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the school.
On the Wildcats' first offensive snap in nearly a month, Asa James broke off a 90-yard touchdown. It had to bring back a sense of déjà vu for a Cass team that allowed an 80-yard pitch-and-catch to Cartersville on its first play from scrimmage last week.
"I'll have to talk to coach [Jamey] Gaddy about our first plays of every game, because that's two weeks in a row that somebody has gone 80 on us," Gates said. "We'll have to relook at our thought process on Sunday. But obviously, when you put up a single-digit on defense, you're doing something right. After that one play, they picked it up."
Wildcats head coach Tony Plott thinks the play, as important as it was, might have hurt his team in a way.
"It was obviously a positive, but sometimes you have to guard against something like that," he said. "I think the kids relax a little bit, and we might have done that."
It proved to be the lone touchdown Woodland would score. The Wildcats' only other points came on a 42-yard field goal by Christopher Sanchez that gave the hosts a 9-7 advantage halfway through the third quarter.
Other than Henderson's 29-yard touchdown pass to Sacovie White with 7:39 left in the second period, there were few notable moments for the Colonels on offense over the opening 24 minutes.
Cass fumbled twice in the first quarter, but Woodland failed to capitalize on the takeaways, including being stopped on a 4th-and-short on the plus side of the field.
"No doubt about it," Plott said. "We didn't take advantage of the opportunities that we had. Part of that might be the layoff, and part of that is Cass rebounded and didn't get down. They kept playing hard and turned the tide."
Again, the Colonels definitely moved the ball better in the second half, and Thomas wouldn't have been able to stop them from his quarterback position. But having him on the sidelines for Woodland's final five offensive possessions proved to be too much to overcome for a team that essentially is starting its season over.
"I'm not sure how he is right now," Plott said of Thomas. "I'll talk to our trainers and our team doctor. See what they think and what we need to do. Moving forward, Chase Carson is an exceptional athlete. He gets reps at practice. He just doesn't get as many as J.T., obviously.
"When he came in, we were kind of limited to our base stuff that we do. Chase did a great job. He moved the ball downfield for us there, and we got a field goal. If he's got to be the guy, then we'll get him ready. I have all the faith in the world in him."
If Carson is needed to start next week, the sophomore will face a tall order against Calhoun. Then again, Woodland could take significant strides after getting a game under its belt. The Wildcats will also be incentivized to put a tough loss behind them.
That type of motivation spurred Cass, coming off its loss to Cartersville. And it likewise helped the Canes rebound from a defeat against Cherokee to beat the Colonels.
It took until the latter stages of Friday's game, but Cass, which travels to Hiram next week, did manage to put its only loss of the season clearly in the rearview mirror.
"The second half definitely got the taste out of our mouth," Gates said. "The Cartersville game, we learned a tremendous amount. That's the level that we want to get to. ... To be the best, you have to beat the best. Until we can beat a team like Cartersville and these other juggernauts in our region, then that's what we're striving for. We just have to keep working and doing it."