Woodland head coach Tony Plott understands his team will enter as heavy underdogs in this week's Region 7-AAAAA matchup at Blessed Trinity. But he also knows his team would get into the Class 5A state playoffs with a victory.
While the chances of that win coming to fruition would seem to be low (Maxwell Ratings put the Titans as 40-point favorites), Plott and his players will carry belief into their regular-season finale.
“I know we’re playing Blessed Trinity — three-time defending state champion in 4A — but anything can happen,” Plott said. “Our kids have come out and worked with that goal still [of making the playoffs]. 2020 being what it is, you never what’s going to happen.”
So what's the game plan for trying to knock off a program that has gone 48-2 with those three aforementioned state titles over the past four seasons?
“We’ve got to be great on defense, and we’ve got to be creative and do some things offensively to try to generate points,” Plott said. “The kids just have to believe. They have to go out there and play hard. Obviously, Blessed Trinity is a great football team. We have to be respectful of them but not fearful of them.”
Even still, the Wildcats (4-3, 1-3) would be excused for being slightly scared of the Titans (5-0, 3-0). Blessed Trinity's rushing attack is quite possibly the most potent in the state, with dynamic sophomore Justice Haynes already eclipsing 1,000 yards (1,052 to be exact, per the Georgia High School Football Daily newsletter) on the season.
“Offensively, they are a machine,” Plott said. “Their offensive line is incredible, probably the best we’ve seen in a long time. You add that to the fact that they’ve got a stable of running backs, one of which is the best sophomore in the country. They’re extremely talented, extremely well coached and extremely good.”
A loss would see Woodland fall into a three-way tie with Cass and Hiram for fourth place in the region. That scenario would see the Hornets snag the final playoff spot, because they own the margin-of-victory tiebreaker over the Wildcats and Colonels.
Regardless of what happens this week, for Woodland to have put itself in position to earn a postseason berth with a win is impressive. After having three weeks wiped away due to COVID-19, the Wildcats, who started the year 3-0, managed to work their way back into form, culminating with a 14-13 win over the Hornets last week.
It's even more awe-inspiring that Woodland pulled off the victory without senior quarterback Johnathan Thomas, whom Plott confirmed has been shut down for the season.
“As far as I can remember and from looking back, this is only the third time that Woodland has played a meaningful game the last week of the season,” Plott said. “That’s something they can be proud of.
“We played the last half of the season without our starting quarterback, who had been a huge part of our offense and had really started coming into his own and blossoming. Losing Johnathan Thomas is a big hurdle. You can’t really replace him, and we’re trying to use two people to do it.”
Given everything Woodland had to overcome to resume its season and to lose Thomas halfway through its first game back from the layoff, Plott has been pleased with the fight his Wildcats have shown. He doesn't expect that attitude to change this week, despite the challenge ahead.
“We felt from Day 1 that we could be a good football team,” Plott said. “I think we saw flashes of that early on. Even though it wasn’t perfect, I felt like we were getting better each week. Then we had the issue with COVID, and it’s just taken us a while to get back. Throw in Johnathan Thomas’ injury on top of that, and it’s just been really, really difficult. …
“They don’t give up, they keep playing hard and they keep fighting hard. I expect them to do that this week.”