By Brian Paglia
Reporters from Cairo have called Woodland football coach Scott Schmitt all week. They've wanted to know how a three-year old program making its first state-playoff appearance feels going into a match-up with the defending Class AAA state champion Syrupmakers, and Schmitt told them all the same thing.
He told them about the two games the Wolfpack have played against state and national power Lowndes in Valdosta. Nevermind that Woodland was outscored 138-14. They've provided Woodland (7-3) with a cache of experiences it draws on now to prepare for an atmosphere and match-up most consider daunting.
"We've played in an atmosphere year after year that is traditionally a great atmosphere," Schmitt said. "So I think the atmosphere (Friday) won't be new to us.
"We shouldn't be there and go, 'Woooooow,' and be shocked. We should go down there and just be ready to play football."
"We've seen the best in the state," Wolfpack linebacker Dillon Livecche said. "So we're already ready for everyone else."
Cairo (7-3, 6-1 Region 1-AAA) entered the season ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press Class AAA preseason poll, even though it lost 19 starters from its 2008 state championship team. Early losses to playoff teams Bainbridge and Thomas County Central dropped the Syrupmakers out of the rankings and seemed to signal a rebuilding year.
But few teams have as much football pedigree as Cairo.
Its resume includes three state titles (1946, 1990, 2008); nine state semifinal appearances; a 438-219-16 overall record; and seven alumni that played in the NFL.
So, naturally, Cairo rebounded from its 0-2 start to win seven out of its final eight games.
"They're a good football team," Schmitt said. "They've got a lot of similarities to us.
They've got a good defense. They've got an offense that can score at will. I think it's going to be a great atmosphere and a great football game."
Woodland ended its season on a different note than Cairo. With a home playoff game on the line, the Wolfpack lost 28-7 at Woodward Academy in their season finale.
Wolfpack players have taken that loss to heart during practice this week.
"We should want to pick it up. We shouldn't want to end the season the way we did at Woodward," Woodland offensive lineman Maxwell Johnson-Green said. "We don't want to transfer last week to this week."
"It was a reality check," Livecche said.
But Schmitt saw some silver linings in the loss. Like how Woodland had more first downs (13-12). Or how the War Eagles outgained Woodland on offense by only 305-265. Or Woodland's five trips into the redzone, though none led to any points.
Those are signs to Schmitt that the Woodward loss won't be as debilitating as it could have been.
"The breaks just didn't go our way," Schmitt said.
Schmitt said his team is resilient and expecting to win Friday, though that shouldn't be unexpected.
It's the same philsophy he took into those two games against Lowndes the past two seasons.
"We're coaching and playing as if we're going to win," Schmitt said. "And we're going to go down there to win."