Both desperately need to win through Region 5AAAAAA if they want to make a run at the state playoffs, and the loser will find their postseason hopes all but dashed.
With both Woodstock (0-5, 0-2) and Cherokee (1-4, 0-2) having yet to win a game in region play, the importance of tonight’s contest isn’t lost on either team’s coach.
“Well, since we haven’t won a game in the region yet, from this point forward, we can’t afford any hiccups,” said Cherokee’s Josh Shaw, in his first year with the Warriors. “Our goal is to make the playoffs, which means that we can’t afford any more losses in the region, so this game is extremely important.”
Woodstock coach Brent Budde echoed similar thoughts.
“You need to win four games in our region to pretty much be guaranteed to make the postseason, and this game will have to be one of those four for us,” Budde said. “Both teams know that, to make the playoffs, they have to win this game.”
Despite the teams’ combined 1-9 record, Budde feels that the product on the field has been much better than what the records would suggest.
“I think Cherokee is in the same boat that we’re in,” Budde said. “Two of their losses, just like ours, came against Lassiter and Walton, so we’ve both lost to two of the best teams in the state. Both of those teams made the semifinals last year, so I expect Cherokee to come in here and play a lot better than their 1-4 record.”
According to Shaw, one of Cherokee’s primary concerns will be to protect its young quarterback, Spencer Ashley.
“Offensively, we’ve been struggling running the football, and it has forced us to pass quite a bit, which is not something that we prefer to do every down, but it has been the only way recently that we can move the ball,” Shaw said. “It is going to be key for us that our offensive line locates where the pressure is going to come from to give Spencer time. The problem is, we have a really young offensive line with four new starters on it, so it has taken a little while for them to jell.”
Not only is Cherokee’s offensive line young, but it’s undersized as well.
“Physically, we are not quite at the point where we need to be, strength- and size-wise,” Shaw said. “We’re playing 205- to 210-pound kids up front.”
Budde hopes to exploit the inexperience of Cherokee’s quarterback, and the offensive line providing his protection.
“I think we will do the same thing that we did against Lassiter, which is give them different looks and try to confuse the quarterback and the line,” Budde said. “Luckily, we’re coming off of a week where our kids did that really well, so if we can cause some confusion, it’ll help us.”
Despite only being a sophomore, Ashley has shown that he has the ability to make plays while on the run and under pressure, such as when he threw for a team-record 307 yards against North Forsyth, despite being sacked five times.
“Their quarterback does a great job scrambling and not going down on first contact, keeping plays alive and delivering his passes, so we’ll have to make sure to bring him down,” Budde said.
There is also a good chance that Cherokee will see one of its top playmakers, running back Treyvon Simmons, return to the starting lineup after he missed last week’s game against Walton with a high ankle sprain.