How does the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 2A quarterfinals feel? Like it’s been a while?
Well, it has — like, since 2006 — and this team that wasn’t supposed to get anywhere got there again.
“We went into this season with everybody on our backs telling us that we weren’t going to be that good and we were just getting the team ready for the upcoming years, like a rebuilding year,” senior quarterback Zach Barron said. “The seniors and I took it to heart.”
Woodland (8-4) will play host to undefeated and third-ranked Tanner tonight. This comes a week after Woodland upset previously unbeaten and second-ranked Fyffe.
Not bad for an unranked team with nary a vote in the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s final poll, and not bad for a team that wasn’t supposed to do that well.
The Bobcats are relishing in everyone’s surprise.
“It means a lot to us,” running back Michael Howard said. “We were under a lot of pressure.”
Not that those who used the ugly “R” word in preseason were haters. Biggest among Woodland’s graduation losses was quarterback Trey Fetner, who signed with South Alabama.
That’s not all the Bobcats lost from a team that lost to Reeltown in the second round of the 2010 playoffs.
“I lost three linemen, quarterback, tailback, the wide receiver, the ‘Z’ receiver and the ‘X’ receiver,” Woodland coach Larry Strain said. “We lost eight off our offense from last year.”
The Bobcats suffered another blow in spring when sophomore John Wes Adcock, who was expected to compete for Fetner’s old job and likely would have had a role in Woodland’s offense regardless, sustained a season-ending knee injury.
Adcock had game experience, having helped Woodland to beat Wellborn in the 2010 regular-season finale after Fetner and Barron, then the backup, went down with injuries.
“In spring, Zach was my one quarterback, and John Wes was my two,” Strain said. “It was going to allow me to do a whole lot of different things, having two quarterbacks. It really changed my offense.”
With Adcock out of the picture, Strain had Barron, a senior, followed by not-so-ready options for a backup. Because of that, Strain couldn’t use his quarterback as before for fear of getting Barron hurt.
“John Wes was the type of kid that can run the option probably a little more,” Strain said. “We probably would have allowed him to run the ball more. He’s a bigger kid than what Zach is.
“We wouldn’t have been as careful about the quarterback runs and quarterback traps out of the gun if we had both of them.”
Barron has done quite well, completing 93 of 164 passes for 1,419 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 368 yards and 10 scores, but Strain estimates that Barron has 40-50 fewer carries than Fetner had this time a year ago.
Barron said he understands the situation but wishes it could be different.
“I’m kind of mad about that,” he said. “I love running the ball.”
But what Woodland lacked in quarterbacking depth it made up for in running backs, and a quality newcomer helped. Michael Howard transferred from Clay County when his mom, a fifth-grade teacher in the Woodland system, moved closer to her job to save on gasoline.
Howard made quite an impact, rushing for 1,570 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Strain adjusted to use his depth at running back.
“We went back to a lot of stuff that we went to in ’06,” he said. “We’re getting in the double-wing more, and we’re getting in some type of two-back set in the gun, and it’s helped us tremendously.
“Before, we were in the one-back set, and there’s only so many plays you can run with one back and the quarterback. Now, you’ve got a chance to fake it to one back, and a little more deception is involved in our backfield.”
For all of the answers Strain could find in how to use his personnel, he still had to solve Class 2A, Region 5 and it’s ceiling of Lineville and Reeltown. There’s also Randolph County and LaFayette.
Those four plus Woodland were expected to fight for the four playoff berths, and a Randolph County forfeit because of an ineligible player sent Woodland into the final week of region play in a three-way tie with LaFayette and Randolph County for third.
The Bobcats beat Randolph County 31-28, and Ranburne beat LaFayette.
“On that same night, we didn’t know until after that game that Ranburne ended up beating LaFayette, so that ended up putting us in, regardless,” Strain said. “That night, we thought whoever loses is out.”
Once in, Woodland benefitted from playing a strong region. The Bobcats opened the playoffs with a 41-23 victory over Colbert Heights then upset Fyffe 27-21.
Woodland still needs two victories to return to the Super Six for the first time since 2006, but then no one predicted the Bobcats to get this far.
“That’s one thing I told our kids,” Strain said.
“We always talk about ’04 and ’06, playing in the state championship game. I think it (this season) is more satisfying to us because our kids have made great strides during the course of the season as far as improvement.
“This has been something that’s been really unexpected. We were fighting for our lives, to be honest, just to make the playoffs.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.