By Brian Paglia
Never before had Woodland entered the final game of the regular season under such circumstances: With a playoff spot already secure, the Wolfpack could ensure that their first game would be at home.
But when they traveled to Woodward Academy on Friday night, the Wolfpack ran into War Eagles running back Juwan Thompson and themselves. Thompson exploded for two touchdowns early in the second half, Woodland missed opportunities afforded to them in the redzone and on turnovers and Woodward Academy snatched second-place in Region 4-AAA with a 28-7 victory.
Third place wasn't the best-case scenario going into the night, nor does it give Woodland (7-3, 6-2) an easy task in the program's first-ever playoff game. Instead of staying at home, the Wolfpack must travel to defending Class AAA state champion Cairo next week.
Yet, they insist that this game doesn't diminish the achievement of becoming just the second school to reach the playoffs in just the program's second year with a varsity schedule. Union Grove reached the playoffs in year-two in 2002.
"We're going to the playoffs. Two-hundred eighty teams aren't," Woodland coach Scott Schmitt said. "So that's a good way to look at it for us."
Such optimism was high going into halftime, even after Woodward Academy went 99 yards on 19 plays, drained 7:45 of the second quarter and took a 14-0 lead on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by James Minor.
Woodland orchestrated its own scoring drive with its own style. Seven plays for 87 yards took just two minutes. Tre Butler caught a 5-yard pass in the corner of the endzone from David Williams to make it 14-7 and invigorate the Wolfpack.
"We thought that drive looked good," Schmitt said.
But Thompson racing 39 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the second half didn't look good. Nor did things look good on Woodward Academy's next possession, when Thompson ran a counter and went 60 yards untouched for another score.
Suddenly, Woodward Academy led 28-7.
Thompson rushed for 201 yards on 27 carries with three touchdowns. Woodward Academy compiled 278 yards rushing with its triple-option offense, more than Woodland produced in total offense.
"Everything they beat us on was big plays," Schmitt said. "We gave up some big things."
While Woodward Academy seemingly capitalized on every advantageous moment, Woodland couldn't seize any momentum.
Not when Williams threw an interception on the Wolfpack's first possession that set up the War Eagles' first touchdown. Not when Woodland had the ball on Woodward Academy's 2-yard line and turned the ball over on downs. Not when the Wolfpack wasted three opportunities in the redzone.
"You just can't do stuff like that," Schmitt said.
Williams completed 13 of 24 passes for 150 yards. Josh Tookes rushed for 97 yards on 18 carries. Butler caught four passes for 90 yards.