By Jamie Walker
STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — For the Forest Park Panthers, it was a homecoming and a new beginning as newly touted head football coach, Rex Robertson, a 1984 graduate of the school, took over a program eager to return to prominence after not having a winning season since 2000.
Although Robertson has plenty of assistant coaching experience, this is his first stint as the man with the “big whistle,” so to speak. On the opposite sideline for Woodland was interim head coach, Bryan Bailey, who is leading the program after Antonio Andrews recently stepped down after just one full season. So both squads and coaches knew that on Friday night at Moseley Drive, something would have to give.
Perhaps that’s why it seemed both teams were nervous early. Forest Park came out in the opening possession with a shotgun spread look and tried to test Woodland’s defense with a little little razzle dazzle, throwing a halfback pass early but falling incomplete.
They showed flashes potential on the opening drive, eventually saw the drive stall, giving Woodland the ball where the Wolfpack subsequently ran four plays and shanked a punt. The Panthers got the ball back with 5:27 left in the opening quarter, and after just three plays, lined up to punt. Woodland defensive back, Brandon Johnson burst through the line to block the punt, setting up his offense in great field position at the 50-yard line.
From here, Woodland would shake off its jitters and begin a dominant offensive display. On the fifth play of this drive, junior tailback, Joshua Weems found the end zone from seven yards out. After the extra point kick by Jake Durdan was good, the score was 7-0 with 1:49 left in the opening stanza.
After another three-and-out by Forest Park, Woodland quarterback Evan Jackson responded by ending the quarter with a 17-yard run. That was a beautiful set up for Jackson to find Ali Abdul-Barr on a 33-yard touchdown strike on the first play of the 2nd quarter to put Woodland up 14-0. After another three-and-out by the Panthers, Forest Park punted to senior, Elijah Parrish and he raced 34-yards for another Woodland score. The extra point pushed it to 21-0.
Forest Park tried to establish some offensive continuity but never could sustain drives, giving the Wolfpack great field position all night. After another stalled drive of six plays, Woodland got the ball back, starting its march from the Panther 35-yard line. It would only take one play for Evan Jackson to toss his second passing touchdown, when he connected with Alec Jackson for 35 yards.
Forest Park didn’t let the half end without showing signs of life, and they did it with a balanced attack the constituted a 10-play scoring drive that ended when quarterback Jacari Hardaway hit William Nix for a 35-yard touchdown pass of his own. That score cut Woodland’s lead to 28-7 at halftime.
Once the third quarter began, Forest Park’s momentum disappeared on one play, as Weems scampered 62-yards for score on the first play of the game after the break. Weems later registered his third rushing score on a 23-yard touchdown gallop by that pushed him well over 100 yards for the night and gave Woodland a 42-7 advantage.
As good as the field position was for Woodland, it was the complete opposite for Forest Park all night. In fact, the Panthers’ next drive after Weems’ third score started on their own 3-yard line, making it easy pickings for a stingy Woodland defense to record a safety, giving it a 44-7 lead. After getting the ball on the free kick at the Panther 20-yard line, junior running back, Emmanuel Wesay scored to provide the game’s final margin.
Forest Park’s only other serious scoring threat came on the next drive, but that threat fizzled when Woodland’s Camani Cobb picked off his second pass of the night.
Next Friday, Woodland (1-0) will travel to face in-county foe Luella (1-0). The Lions started their season off with an impressive 28-14 win at McIntosh. Meanwhile, Forest Park stays on the quest to give coach Robertson his first win at the program’s helm when the Panthers take on Clayton County rival Morrow (0-1) next Friday. Morrow fell 42-0 at Class 5A No. 10 Cartersville Friday night.