Sandy Creek’s home crowd saw a number of things Friday night that hadn’t been seen in a while. A team actually came in and physically overpowered the Patriots. Woodward took this region game 28-7, kneeling the ball to run out the last minute of play. That hasn’t been seen in a long time.
In the regular season, the Patriots have not been beaten since their season opener against East Coweta High in 2009. They lost that one 28-27. This loss ended a 44-game winning streak in region games. Sandy Creek hadn’t lost to a region opponent since Oct. 26, 2007 against Haralson County, a 24-14 defeat.
The Patriots last failed to win their region in 2008. That streak is likely to end too, as Woodward would need to lose its remaining two games for Sandy Creek to have a shot at the region.
That’s a lot of history to dwell on for a team not used to losing. Coach Chip Walker didn’t dwell at all in his postgame address to his players.
“By Monday, we will find out what type of character we really have,” Walker told his players. “Because this ain’t the end of it. We have to take this and learn from in it. On Monday, we gotta get back to work.”
The score looked a little lopsided by the end of the 48 minutes, but the game seemed to turn on just a few plays and one questionable penalty.
The matchup looked like strength on strength, both teams featuring physical defenses and a star running back. Neither Woodward’s Elijah Holyfield nor Sandy Creek’s Eric Swinney found a lot of room to run in this one.
Woodward, however, was able to eke just a bit more offense before a major turn of events opened the flood gates.
“We just made too many unforced errors,” said Walker. “You go back to the first half, we just kept making small mistakes after small mistakes and they add up when you play good football teams. And Woodward’s a good football team.”
The first quarter was a back and forth slog, but Woodward found themselves on the goal line on the opening play of the second. Holyfield ran it in to give Woodward a 7-0 lead.
Walker said he had hoped to get the ball to the outside against a Woodward team that was very stout up the middle. The opportunities were limited in the first half, though. Swinney looked like he was running in quicksand, battling just to get two or three yards in the teeth of the defense. The result was a series of stalled drives leading to punts.
Woodward’s final drive of the half would be shut down on a huge sack by Trent Sellers.
The Patriots started to air it out a little more in the second half, finding they could attack the Woodward secondary in spots. Still, the teams traded stalled drives all the through the third quarter until Creek put together some momentum.
A great pass breakup by Sammy Brown gave Sandy Creek the ball on their own 17 following a Woodward punt. It felt like the Patriots had to break out and make something happen on offense if they hoped to win, and they did just that.
With nothing doing on the ground, quarterback Trey Walker found himself needing to convert a 3rd and 6. Korey Banks got a step on his defender and Walker dropped a beautiful ball over his shoulder for a 37-yard gain.
Walker then had to do it again on a 4th and 9, this time lofting a pass up to Christian Branch who made a great adjustment to come down with the ball on the three-yard line.
Swinney finished up the drive and Arnol Spaniol put away the extra point to make it a 7-7 game with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The momentum felt like it was swinging Sandy Creek’s way as the defense came out ferociously, forcing Woodward quickly into a long third down attempt. Trent Sellers again tore through the line and delivered a vicious hit on the quarterback, upending him and driving him into the ground.
The crowd went nuts for what felt like a huge moment, but the referees had already thrown the flag for roughing the passer. Woodward got the ball back with a fresh set of downs and, on the very next play, the quarterback would fake a hand off and break it 46 yards for a touchdown.
The game unraveled for Sandy Creek after that crucial momentum swing.
Coach Walker would go for it on fourth down in his own territory with around six minutes left in the game. The play looked just like the one to Branch that had put Sandy Creek in position for their touchdown. This time, Branch’s defender adjusted with him and managed to knock the ball away.
Woodward, now with the ball on Sandy Creek’s 36-yard line, quickly scored again to make it 21-7.
With only four minutes left, the game was all but over. Woodward soon put the nail in the coffin, getting the ball back after another failed fourth down conversion and scoring again on a touchdown from Holyfield.
The final score ended up being a product of the circumstances. The game might have ended something more like 14-7 if Walker had opted to punt on fourth down late in the game, but he decided to go for the chance at forcing overtme or winning, knowing it was unlikely his team could punt, get the ball back and score quickly enough given the way the game had gone to that point.
As for the roughing the passer penalty, Walker said “that wasn’t a great call, and then they scored on the next play, so it was something that definitely turned the game a little bit, but we had way more opportunities than that.”
Walker said he hoped experiencing a loss would sharpen his players’ focus as the playoffs approach.
“We gotta prepare. You don’t ever want to lose, but sometimes it helps you refocus a little it and focus on the small things.”