The last time Woodland made the playoffs was 2014. Before Friday night the last time Woodland beat Ranburne was 2011.
On Friday the Bobcats ended one of those streaks, and now, as they enter the second half of the season, they could be about to end the other.
Woodland played a nearly flawless game and finally – finally – got the big plays when they needed them to secure a rousing 20-19 win over Ranburne Friday. The weather was overcast and misty for much of the game, but you couldn’t help but sense during the postgame celebration that a giant cloud had lifted from atop the Woodland program.
“The streak is over,” said Woodland quarterback Brock Edwards. “It’s a new Woodland.”
If any player has the authority to say that it’s Edwards, who ran 19 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns, including what proved to be the game-winning score with 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
Ranburne later answered with its own touchdown on a 5-yard touchdown run by Jaxon Langley to position themselves to tie the game. But the extra point attempt was partially blocked and fell short and left Woodland clinging to a 20-19 advantage with 6:30 left in the game.
Behind the clock-milking running of Edwards and Parker Woodham, a formula that had worked wonders all night, Woodland was able to run out the clock on it ensuing possession. The final play came when Edwards took a knee at the Ranburne 11-yard line out of something no Woodland fan had seen from its team against Ranburne in nearly a decade – the victory formation.
“I’ve been waiting for this since my seventh grade year,” a jubilant Edwards said afterward. “We’ve all been working for this. Everybody deserves credit. It’s amazing.”
Woodland head coach Blair Armstrong is a relative newcomer to this rivalry, a game that has been played between these teams at least once every year since 1953. Armstrong is now in his second year at Woodland after a career spent mostly in Georgia and Florida, so he has been hesitant to use the word “rivalry” in a series that has been so one-sided recently.
But Friday night had him changing that tune a little bit.
“To these fans and this community it’s completely, amazingly important,” Armstrong said. “I never really thought it was much of a rivalry because we haven’t beat them in nine years. Rivalries, you have to win one every now and then.”
“So maybe we can call it a rivalry now,” he said with a smile.
Ranburne head coach Stephen Bailey is in a unique position to speak about the nature of the Woodland-Ranburne series. Bailey got his start as a coach at Woodland, where he was an assistant under Larry Strain from 2003-2011.
He then moved to Ranburne starting in the 2012 season and took over as head coach in 2016.
Because of the timing of his move, Friday marked the first time that Bailey had been on the losing side of this rivalry since Woodland’s loss in 2003, a span of 17 straight games.
And that was part of his message of consolation to his team afterward.
“I lost my first one in this game when I was coaching, then we won like 17 in a row,” he said. “It will be okay, and you’ll wake up tomorrow and the sun will come up and you’ll get to do it again.”
He admitted that seeing the streak come to an end was a bitter pill to swallow for his players.
“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have been shed to be able to have that streak,” Bailey said. “A lot of people sacrificed a lot of things to make that happen along the way, and you don’t want to be the one holding the rope when it happens. It’s bound to happen. It was going to eventually one way or the other. You just hope it’s not on your watch. And it was. So now the question is how do you respond to it?”
It’s hard to imagine the game being more evenly matched than it was Friday. The two teams each possessed the ball a total of five times. For each of them the drive results were the same.
Ranburne: Touchdown, touchdown, end of half, punt, touchdown
Woodland: Touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, end of game.
The reason for those limited possessions was a brilliantly executed Woodland game plan that shortened the game and helped limit the high-powered passing game of Ranburne. Woodland made no secret about the fact that they were working the clock, even from the opening drive of the game. From the start, the Bobcats would huddle until the play clock got to about 15 seconds and then they would snap the ball with under five seconds left.
Woodland’s ability to get first downs without getting huge chunks of yards also played into their ability to keep the clock winding and keep the ball out of Langley’s hands.
Woodham was big part of that as he ran for 63 yards and Woodland’s first touchdown on 16 carries.
Woodham and Edwards combined for 193 of Woodland’s 242 yards of offense.
“I thought it was an absolute great plan, and knowing that we had trouble stopping the run made it even better,” Bailey said. “They were able to execute it and limit our possessions.”
It was a perfect streak-breaking storm for Woodland, who entered the game off of a confidence-boosting win over Donoho and who faced a Ranburne team without two of its best players. The Bulldogs were without all-state lineman Carson Hall and their most versatile offensive threat Tylor Cornwell.
Bailey said those injuries may have played into Woodland’s mental state entering the game.
“A lot of times in situations like that the hardest thing is to get those guys to believe,” Bailey said. “It helped them to believe knowing that we had some guys that weren’t playing. But ultimately they played better than us. Whether we had guys in or out didn’t matter. They were the better team Friday night.”
Langley was Ranburne’s most productive threat in both the passing and running attacks. He completed 15-of-20 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 75 yards and a score on 13 carries. Tyler Craft was Langley’s primary target as he hauled in six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.
The value of this win for Woodland could very well extend into the second half of the season. Woodland is 3-2 overall and 1-1 in region play, which means they are very much in the thick of the playoff race. If the ‘Cats can ride the momentum from Friday’s victory, it could turn into a very special season.
That was Armstrong’s message to his team after the win.
“We’ve got a region to work on. We’ve dropped one region game. We can’t drop any more if we want to get in the playoffs,” he said before his smile returned. “This will be big. It won’t be hard to get them to practice this week. Not that it was hard anyway, but they’ll be early this week.”