Westwood put together a two-year 26-game winning streak and back-to-back GISA Class A state football titles, and coach Ross Worsham has appreciated every moment.
It started in heartbreak, bitter, shake-your-head-in-frustration heartbreak.
And it isn’t over yet.
That’s why the beginning and the end are so difficult to find and talk about, because the streak that has redefined football at Westwood is still alive and well at 26 in a row.
The Westwood Wonders have put together a two-year 26-game winning streak with perfect bookend 13-0 seasons that have produced back-to-back GISA Class A state football titles, and the man who is calling the shots appreciates every moment.
That’s Westwood coach Ross Worsham, who is the 2011 Albany Herald John Reynolds Coach of the Year.
“This is something we’ll remember 50 years from now,’’ Worsham said. “The coaches and the kids won’t ever forget this. Even if they get Alzheimer’s they’ll remember this.’’
Then Worsham stopped and started again.
“Even if it was 13-0 you would never forget it, and you know they won’t forget 26-0,’’ he said.
The irony is the streak actually started the year before Westwood won the 2010 opener. You really have to go back to 2009 to appreciate what the program has accomplished.
That was the gut-wrenching season for Westwood. The Wildcats lost five games that year by three points or less and were leading Thomas Jefferson, 24-21, in the final minutes of the state playoffs when TJ came back to end Westwood’s season with a late touchdown.
“You wanted to come back the next year and rectify what had happened,’’ Worsham said. “All those heartbreaking losses put us on a path to work harder. It made everyone focus, made everyone hungry to win the next year.’’
In 2010 is when the magic started at Westwood, where the Wildcats came back in the final seconds to beat rival Class AA Southwest Georgia Academy, 19-18, on Jake Edore’s game-winning field goal in the season opener.
“That’s what got it started,’’ Worsham said.
And it hasn’t stopped.
Westwood came back the next week to win in another miracle last-second finish to beat AAA Tiftarea, 20-17, and in the third game of the season, the Wildcats hung on to upset AAA Sherwood Christian, 10-7, when Westwood stopped the Eagles’ final drive to win the game in the waning seconds. Suddenly Westwood, which had lost the previous year, 52-36 to SGA, had three dramatic wins — and all against bigger schools.
They had become the Westwood Wonders.
“Those three games came right down to the wire, and when we won them it helped build our confidence, and it’s been building since. We became confident — not cocky, but confident. I knew we had a good group coming back and had a chance to compete if we could get over the hump, and that’s what we did in those three games. We had the right mindset to stay focused, to finish the drill,” he said.
They went 13-0 and won the state title, and Worsham said half the battle was believing.
“We went from hoping we would win to expecting to win,’’ he said. “That’s the mentality our kids have. They expect to win. There’s a big difference when you have that mentality.’’
This season might have been even more special, because nothing is harder in football than repeating a title run.
“They were just a great bunch of kids who listened to their coaches and worked hard. We’ve got great assistant coaches and great kids,’’ Worsham said. “We always preach to them to get better every day, and we want to peak at the end of the season. I think we did that.’’
The pressure might have been on Westwood, but Worsham and his kids couldn’t have handled it much better.
“We knew coming into the season that we would have a bull’s eye on our back,’’ he said. “Our kids were never intimidated that everyone was out to get us. And we preached to them to never get satisfied and to stay hungry, and they did stay hungry.’’
Westwood simply ripped its way through the season, outscoring opponents, 645-116, and wining by an average margin of 49-11. After the opening-night 40-27 win against SGA, Westwood’s first-team defense gave up just one touchdown through the rest of the regular season, and the offense rolled up 50 points a game.
Westwood did have one last miracle comeback when the Wonders rallied to beat Thomas Jefferson — yes, that Thomas Jefferson — 35-28 in overtime in the state semifinals in Camilla. Westwood trailed by eight points with less than two minutes left in regulation but had a breath-taking drive to close to within two points before Worsham’s sons pulled off a play for the ages. QB Mason Worsham couldn’t find a receiver on the two-point conversion play, so he improvised and tossed the ball to his brother, Chason, a freshman, who met a wall of defenders at the goal line.
The youngest Worsham not only leaped over the wall, but he somersaulted into the end zone to send the game into overtime, where the Wonders did it again.
The Wildcats won the state title the next week, beating Memorial Day, 33-21 to continue the dynasty.
It was that kind of year at Westwood — one they won’t soon forget.