The W.T. Woodson football team may have a reputation as a passing team thanks to senior quarterback Connor Reilly, but against West Springfield on Oct. 23, it was the rushing game that propelled the Cavaliers to victory.
Senior running back James Johnson racked up 190 yards on 22 carries and four rushing touchdowns, helping the Spartans to a 44-31 win over their newfound Patriot District rival.
"[Other teams] might prepare for the passing game because Reilly is a great quarterback," Johnson said. "But when we get our chances to rush, we take advantage of them."
Johnson was right. All four of his rushing touchdowns came at critical moments in the game, including his final two that helped finish off the Spartans.
But Johnson's most spectacular rush of the night was a 65-yard dash that resulted in a touchdown, a play that earned high praise from Woodson head coach Trey Taylor.
"Johnson has just done a great job for us," Taylor said. "On [the 65-yard rush], I'm not even sure how many tackles he broke to get to the end zone. He just refuses to be tackled. You can't make that, that's just how [Johnson] is."
Johnson's rushing attack helped keep the Cavaliers in the game while the Spartans jumped to an early lead in the first quarter.
As Johnson pounded away at the Spartans’ defensive line, quarterback Connor Reilly found the space to move the ball effectively through the air.
Reilly ended the night with 140 passing yards and one passing touchdown to wideout Colin Dempsey.
"In high school football, you're either a running team or passing team," Taylor said. "Reilly and Johnson give us the ability to do both."
With two major scoring threats on the team, Reilly is quick to credit his offensive line and teammates for any success the offense finds on the field.
"Football isn't about one man. It’s a team sport," Reilly said. "Everyone works together. The credit goes to the team and to the offensive line."
Making the victory sweeter for Reilly and Johnson was the fact that the Cavaliers avenged an ugly 72-47 loss in the playoffs last season.
"Our motto this week was payback and redemption," Reilly said. "We came out here and did what we needed to do."
This was also the first meeting of the two teams as district rivals. The Cavaliers moved from the Liberty District to the Patriot District this season, ensuring that future meetings between the two schools would come with some extra spice.
Although the Cavaliers earned the victory, the team is still two weeks away from a potential playoff game.
"We have a lot to work [before the playoffs] and we found that out tonight," Johnson said. "But one thing we learned today is that we do not give up."
The Cavaliers have a 7-1 record now, one of the best starts in school history, but a late-season loss could pit the team against a tougher opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite the tough schedule ahead, Taylor is confident his players will stay on track with their goals.
"Everyone we play for the rest of the year is a really good team," Taylor said. "We all remember making the playoffs last year and being sent home after one game. Nothing is guaranteed. It's motivating having to play tough teams each week because there's no time to relax or lay down."
The Cavaliers return to the field on Friday, Oct. 30 to play Annandale High School (3-4).