Athens By Keith Farner
Special to the Citizen
Rodney Willingham just smiles when he’s asked his height and weight. The pint-sized running back for Cedar Shoals, officially listed at 5-5, 155 pounds, didn’t let his size hold him back Friday. Willingham rushed for 124 yards and three touchdowns in the Jaguars’ second consecutive victory, 28-14 over Rockdale at The Jungle.
The junior back scored on a 13-yard run in the first half and capped the scoring with a one-yard burst in the fourth quarter. For Willingham, the victory and touchdown binge was just one reason to celebrate. He also rang in his 17th birthday.
“That’s the biggest present I wanted,” Willingham said. “I told my team, ‘y’all just go out and play hard.’ I knew we were going to face some kind of adversity. That’s all I really wanted for my team was the victory.”
Rockdale turned the ball over four times-three fumbles and one interception-yet only trailed 14-7 at halftime. The Bulldogs answered a 35-yard rushing touchdown by Willingham to open the second half with a 16-play 68-yard scoring drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown hook up between quarterback Zach Powell and Deon Holder. That cut the deficit to 20-14, but Rockdale wouldn't dent the scoreboard again.
The Bulldogs were led by the rushing of Holder and Demonta Graham, who combined for 81 yards.
Cedar’s running game was a short-handed because of the absence of sophomore fullback Adrian Washington, who is scheduled to have surgery on his right thumb on Monday. Washington was a key player in last week’s 27-point come-from-behind victory over Habersham Central. Willingham filled in his portion, and more.
“He practices at the level that he plays,” Cedar Shoals coach Dreco Thomas said said of Willingham. “A lot of people don’t do that. In practice, he goes harder than any one that we have. He knows one speed. That’s why he’s able to break tackles, and get extra yardage, hidden yardage.”
In a topsy-turvy early part of the season for Cedar Shoals, Thomas, a first-year coach, said his team has learned how to handle adversity. Thomas said after a “hysterical” halftime atmosphere in a season-opening loss to Clarke Central, Cedar has had a “peaceful confidence.”
“If they continue to have that swagger, we can do some good things,” Thomas said.
Rockdale (1-2) hosts Heritage Thursday.
“This whole region is up in the air about who’s good and who’s not,” Etheridge said. “If we keep working hard, by mid-year we should hit our stride, and (Rockdale is) going to be decent.”