After four maddeningly close losses to start 2017, Woodbury appeared to turn a corner halfway through the season.
The Royals completed that comeback Wednesday by winning its fourth straight game, packing a head of steam as the 4-4 team heads into sectional playoffs behind a 21-7 home win over Stillwater.
As it has in the past several games, Woodbury’s defense was smothering and on the attack. The unit forced five turnovers - three interceptions and two recovered fumbles - against the Ponies, including two picks by junior Jenaro Wathum-Ocama.
“The turnovers were huge,” Woodbury coach Andy Hill said, adding that the team works on turnover circuits daily. “It’s been a big point of emphasis and we’ve seen it sort of kick in as the season’s progressed.”
Hill praised senior quarterback Ryan Christensen, who the coach said evolved into a confident, effective player as the season progressed. Christiansen passed for 102 yards and a touchdown to go with 33 rushing yards capped by an eight-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter.
The score followed a series of turnovers committed by each team ending with Woodbury recovering a fumble on its own 35 yard line. Christensen broke free on a fourth-and-five play and again on the ensuing play, which put the ball on the Stillwater 8 yard line.
The quarterback punched it in from there.
“He’s had his best performances the last couple weeks,” Hill said of Christensen. “I’m just really proud of him.”
Woodbury went up 21-0 in the third quarter on a 41-yard bomb (see attached video) from Christensen to Zach Ames, which Hill said put the Royals “in the driver’s seat.”
“When our line can sit down and make some blocks for us, we’ve got some great receivers down there, and let them run wild,” Christensen said.
Like Hill, he credited Woodbury’s defense for setting up scoring opportunities, but standout defensive end David Alston said the late Stillwater touchdown left a sour taste in his mouth.
“That’s the first touchdown we’ve given up in the last four games, so honestly, for us, we don’t think that was our best performance,” he said.
Junior running back Andrew Kraemer, who scored Woodbury’s first touchdown of the game with a 47-yard run, finished with 108 yards on 14 carries. Ames was Woodbury’s top receiver with 41 yards, while three other players - Zack Anderson, Drew Pearson and Kraemer - each hauled in two passes.
The team now awaits section seeding, which should be released Thursday. Games will be played Friday, Oct. 27.