BY NICHOLAS SULLIVAN
East Hall’s final scores against Flowery Branch and Union County haven’t been much different this year compared to last. However, the Vikings are anything but the same team they were 12 months ago.
Woodland will find out just how much has changed tonight, when the Wildcats visit Gainesville.
“We expect to get their best game,” Woodland head coach Tony Plott said. “They have a good coaching staff. They work hard. Their kids are starting to play hard for them. We’re worried about it. I thought last year, they had as good looking of athletes as anybody we played.”
A new coaching regime has taken over the East Hall program, and the staff on both sides will present a unique challenge for Woodland (1-0).
On the offensive side, Michael Perry has brought an Air Raid attack to the Vikings (0-2). Most famous for being the offensive coordinator for Deshaun Watson’s state championship Gainesville team in 2012, Perry has had incredible success with quarterbacks across the state.
“We expect them to be uptempo,” Plott said. “We expect to see quarterback runs. We expect to see a lot of swing passes out of the backfield to the backs. [Perry] does a great job of finding mismatches in the defense and taking advantage of it.”
East Hall starting quarterback Clete Cooper completed just 10 of 23 passes for 78 yards and two interceptions in a 50-0 loss to Flowery Branch. Last week, Cooper looked much better, finishing 31-for-41 for 292 yards and a touchdown in a 49-8 loss to Union County.
Last season, the Vikings fell to those same two opponents by scores of 70-6 and 35-6, respectively. That was followed up by a 55-6 drubbing by the Wildcats. East Hall went on to allow 518 total points in ending the year 3-7.
It’s that defensive side of the ball that provides an even more intriguing storyline than Perry’s new-look offense, as new Vikings defensive coordinator Shane Giardina is a former Wildcats coach under Plott. Giardina typically runs a 4-2-5 scheme, but against Woodland’s run-heavy offense, he might be forced to switch things up.
“We have to understand that he has a good idea of what we do, and how we block things,” Plott said. “We tweaked things a little bit this week in preparation for that.
“We have a plan, and they have a plan. It really comes down to who can get their kids to carry it out and play hard.”
Not only will Giardina’s familiarity with the Wildcats offense potentially cause some issues but also his knowledge of Woodland’s defensive schemes will no doubt be passed along to Perry.
“He knows our offense; he knows our defense,” Plott said. “He kind of knows some things that gives us problems, and I’m sure we’ll see that on both sides of the ball.”
One thing that does play into Woodland’s favor would be the open date the team had this past week. With no game to focus on, the Wildcats had a chance to build off an impressive 35-7 victory over Southeast Whitfield.
“I think our kids played hard, and we’ve gotten accustomed to them doing that each week,” Plott said of the Aug. 23 victory. “They go out, and they compete. They take pride in being a physical football team. We saw that.
“We did sustain a few more drives than we did against Adairsville. That was a highlight for us. But we’re still capable of hitting a big run at any time, and we did that also. We’re seeing a little bit more of what we want our offense to look like.”
Since the season-opening win, Woodland has had ample time to prepare for East Hall. That being said, the Wildcats took a mostly inward focus to the layoff.
“Just like every other team, we want to use the open week to get healthy,” Plott said. “Even though we’ve only played a game and a scrimmage game, we still have some kids who are banged up. We’re going to try to get healthy as much as possible.
“We want to continue to work on the fundamentals. Football still comes down to blocking and tackling, so we worked on those on a daily basis. Then just work on us — our base offense, our base defense. Trying to get more kids involved also, and getting more kids reps, specifically in practice, to try to build our depth.”
Some of those inexperienced players saw some snaps late in the win over Southeast Whitfield, and it’s possible they could see extensive work this week. That would be a positive for Woodland for a number of reasons, including the fact the schedule only gets tougher with Region 7-AAAAA action beginning next week.
“I think our kids realize what’s coming ahead of us, eventually,” Plott said. “This is not to be disrespectful to the teams we’ve played so far, but they know it’s not Rome, they know it’s not Carrollton and they know it’s not Kell.
“Our kids understand that it’s good to have done what we’ve done, but it’s also going to be harder down the road.”