In a season where moral victories may just have to suffice and progress won’t necessarily be measured by final scores, Blair Armstrong made his Woodland coaching debut Friday.
Woodland lost 17-8 to Fayetteville, the Bobcats undone by a late long touchdown pass and a questionable early penalty that negated a long Woodland punt return.
But Armstrong was unfazed by the final result and saw the makings of something he can mold into a winner.
“I told the kids after the game, I was discouraged that we didn’t win because I thought we had a shot. But the thing that excited me the most is I see the potential,” Armstrong said. “They don’t necessarily see it. The fans may not necessarily see it, but I do. I saw the heart, the determination, the effort. No matter what, they were fighting to be successful. And I can work with that all day.”
Armstrong has been with the team for just over three weeks, and even that time has been abbreviated by his ongoing teaching requirements in Smiths Station. He spends three hours each day driving back and forth between the two schools, which often puts him at practice an hour or more after it has begun.
But even in the midst of all those circumstances he has doubled the size of the roster. That’s the good news. The bad news is that when you have that many new players this close to the season, there’s going to be a significant learning curve.
“In defense of the whole situation, we’ve got 15 or so kids out that didn’t play last year,” Armstrong said. “They’re green. Some of them haven’t played since the eighth grade. We’ve got a bunch of 10th graders out there that haven’t played in two years. From that standpoint I think we did really, really well. I was really pleased.”
Woodland’s only touchdown Friday came on a short reception by Dale Robertson. The senior running back scored after switching his jersey number from 4 to 12 in honor of his brother Samuel, who passed away in a car accident earlier this summer.
Robertson also led the team with 14 tackles and forced a fumble to pace a defensive effort that gave Woodland a real shot at a season-opening victory.
Parker Woodham led Woodland’s rushing attack with 41 yards on 11 carries. Quarterback Brock Edwards went 6-for-14 with a touchdown and a pair of interceptions.
Woodland now enters what will likely be the most difficult part of its schedule. The Bobcats have to play Wadley at home this week, then region favorites Ohatchee and Ranburne the next two weeks before a showdown with 3A powerhouse RCHS in week five.
Armstrong said that preserving the effort that he saw Friday through that stretch of tough games could be the biggest challenge of the next few weeks.
“The toughest thing is if things don’t go well that we don’t get down on ourselves,” Armstrong said. “I watched some film from last year and there’s a couple of times late in the game where you could just tell they were ready to go home. And I get it. I’ve always dealt with that taking over programs. But I didn’t feel any of that Friday night.”
And you never know. Strange things can happen in the game of football.
“If we can get better than we were last Friday, and we can do that each week, then when it’s time for us to win some, we’ll win them,” Armstrong said. “That could be Friday [against Wadley]. If they don’t play their best game and we play our best game, we’ve got enough bullets that we can be successful.”