The Orange Leader
WEST ORANGE —
West Orange-Stark football coach Cornel Thompson has seen his share of excellent linebackers over the course of a long career, one that goes back to the Mustang glory days in both Class 5A and Class 4A.
When you get praised by Thompson, you’re doing something right, which is the case for Mustang senior linebackers Joe Lynch and Daniel Woodson as the Mustangs (13-0) prepare to face the Navasota Rattlers (13-0) in the Class 3A Region III Division II Finals Friday at 7 p.m. at Humble’s Turner Stadium.
“We’ve had some good ones here, some that have played in state championship games and big 5A games, and both Joe and Daniel could’ve played for those teams and would’ve fit in well,” said Thompson. “Both those kids know what Mustang Football is all about. They’re both three-year starters for a reason. They’re pretty dang good.”
Both have been key factors in leading the Mustangs to a school-record nine shutouts this year. The Mustangs have allowed just 42 points and are yielding a mere 132.8 yards a game.
“We thought, coming into the year, that we could do amazing things,” said Woodson. “No way did I ever think we would have nine shutouts, but we do, and that’s amazing. You just never hear of that.”
Lynch echoed the same sentiments.
“As a senior group as a whole, we wanted to make a mark this year,” said Lynch. “So many of us have been playing together on varsity for three years now. We’ve made progress each season and we want to take it all the way.”
Lynch has bulldozed his way through opposing running backs and quarterbacks.
Lynch leads the Mustangs with 142 tackles. He also has 16 tackles for losses, five sacks, two caused fumbles, a fumble recovery and a interception.
Woodson, the District 21-3A Defensive Player of the Year as a junior, in 2011, has had an impressive run as a senior as well.
Woodson has notched 112 tackles, 10 of them for losses. He also has two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
“You’ve got to have a couple good athletes in those spots that have that ‘linebacker mentality’ and both of them definitely have that,” said Thompson. “Experience has paid off for both of them and they’re both quick to learn, whether it’s at practice or watching film. They’ve been through some huge, huge games. It’s hard to imagine, but those guys will be competing in their 10th playoff games Friday night.
Lynch and Woodson having been playing side-by-side for quite awhile now.
“Daniel and I go all the way back to sixth grade and we’ve been great friends ever since,” said Lynch. “We’re a pretty good team on the field and even better friends off of it. We were both put on varsity as sophomores and back then we were proud that we were both living our dreams, playing on Friday night for the Mustangs.”
“Joe, he’s definitely the energizer, he’s always been that way,” said Woodson. “He’s such a competitor at everything he does. When the ball is snapped, it’s like a game, and he’s always wanting to be the first one there.”
Thompson loves what both bring to the table.
“Daniel, he’s the ‘quarterback’ of the defense,” said Thompson. “He gets everyone lined up correctly and makes good decisions before the snap on moving people around. He’s also been sneaky with his tackles, you may not think he has many, you go back and look at the film and he’ll have 11 or 12.”
Joe, we do a lot of things with him,” said Thompson. “He’s small and compact and wraps up well. We really love bringing him off the edge.”
Woodson is just glad to have his buddy back in full form this year. Lynch tore his MCL last year against Hamshire-Fannett in district play in 2011, sat out a couple games and came back, but wasn’t quite his usual self.
“That was a tough setback for me,” said Lynch. “I also think I came back to play too quick and I truly didn’t bounce back fully until the offseason.”
“That’s one thing about Joe, you can’t keep him out of a game,” said Woodson. “I know it tore him up last year when he had to miss a couple games. He’s a warrior.”
Thompson knows that the tandem has determination, that’s for sure.
“Woody (Woodson) got hurt in a scrimmage last year and battled through it most of the season and Joe, he showed his toughness, coming back the way he did,” said Thompson. “Those two, what else can you say, just love to compete. They’re the type that don’t want to let their teammates down. They definitely lead by example.”
Now it’s on to the biggest game that the two standouts will compete in yet Friday in Humble against the No. 1 team in the state.
The Rattlers have put up incredible numbers, averaging 472.4 yards a game behind standout quarterback Kadarius Baker.
Baker has passed for 3,874 yards and 50 touchdowns, most of them going to standout receivers Solomon McGintry (75-1,545-19) and Austin Collins (74-1,516-21).
“There’s no doubt, Navasota is an excellent football team and they’ve been No. 1 for a reason,” said Woodson. “We know that we have a very good football team too, one that knows that it can compete with anybody. We know this week is our toughest test yet and we’re ready to take on the challenge. We’re not the type of team that backs down from any challenge.”
“All the big talk is about how they (Navasota) have the No. 1-ranked offense in the state and we have the top-ranked defense,” said Lynch. “But it never comes down to who has the best numbers, it comes down to who has the best Friday night. Nobody mentions our offense, which is good, and Navasota’s defense, which is good. It could also come down to special teams. We’ve just got to go in there and play Mustang football and play to the level we know we’re capable of.”