OAKLAND — Josh Woodard isn’t one of the Messalonskee High School football team’s four captains, but make no mistake, he is one of the Eagles’ leaders.

“He is definitely a leader on both sides of the ball. I and the rest of the coaches rely on him in practice to keep the kids moving. He really takes leadership of both huddles,” Messalonskee interim head coach Chapin LaBelle said.

Early in the season, Woodard won a battle at quarterback and became the Eagles’ full time signal caller. Defensively, Woodard starts at strong safety, where he’s become the leader of Messalonskee’s young secondary.

“It just kind of happened naturally for me. Playing with players like Sam Dexter, Gage Landry, Travis St. Pierre, I mean, those guys were all leaders last year, and I was fortunate to play quite a bit of defense for us last year. Just with the experience of playing last year, I stepped into that role,” Woodard said.

Messalonskee (6-3), the No. 4 seed in the Pine Tree Conference Class A playoffs, will play at No. 1 Lawrence (9-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday.

At the start of the season, Woodard and Chris Delisle split time at quarterback. By the third game of the season, the job was Woodard’s, and Delisle, one of the Eagles’ leading tacklers, focused his attention on playing linebacker.

“Josh really improved from last year. He pushed Delisle and they played 50/50 through that first game against Cony,” LaBelle said. “(Woodard) just kept improving each day.”

Even in Messalonskee’s run-heavy offense, Woodard had chances to throw the ball.

“When we get our passing game going, it really opens up a lot of other things for us. Most teams expect us to just come out and run all day,” Woodard said. “When we can make some pass plays to people like Jake Dexter, (Antonio) Bellavance, (Ryan) Fecteau, that pretty much opens the whole playbook for us.”

Woodard tossed his first touchdown pass in a 20-12 win over Skowhegan in Week 3, a 32-yard pass to Bellavance. Woodard rolled out of the pocket and to his left on the play, finding Bellavance behind the defense in the end zone.

A week later at Oxford Hills, Woodard threw two touchdown passes, both in the second quarter. The first came on fourth down and 14 from the Vikings’ 26 with Woodard throwing a fade to Dexter in the right corner of the end zone.

With three and a half minutes left in the first half, on fourth and 5 from the Oxford Hills 10, Woodard rolled to his left and dumped the ball off to fullback Jake Stinson, who ran over a defender for the score. The touchdown gave Messalonskee a 21-point lead at the half and the Eagles went on to a 41-0 win.

“He’s good at seeing where he should go with it presnap, and those were both huge plays,” LaBelle said.

This season, Woodard has completed 26 of 46 passes (a 56.5 completion percentage), for four touchdowns and three interceptions. Woodard also has 20 carries for 66 yards. Just 5-foot-9, Woodard is best when he’s out of the pocket.

“I definitely feel more comfortable on the run. I don’t mind sitting back in the pocket, but on the run, I can usually see a little bit better. I’m obviously a shorter quarterback. It helps me when I’m moving out,” Woodard said. “As the year progressed, we started to pass more and more. All the receivers, as well as myself, started to develop more confidence.”

Added LaBelle: “He throws fairly well. I think his height hinders that a little bit, but when we roll out, he seems to throw nicely. He makes good decisions.”

Defensively, Woodard was the only returning player in the secondary and his experience has helped his younger teammates. The Eagles played Cony and Skowhegan, two teams that run the spread offense, early in the season. Woodard’s ability to recognize the opponents’ formations and what the defense could expect, helped the Eagles win each game, LaBelle said.

“He sees the field. He sees the formations. He knows not just his job, but where everyone’s supposed to be. He’s been great on our run support,” LaBelle said.

Added Woodard: “I really feel like we’ve grown as a secondary throughout the year. The young players are definitely coming along for us.”

Recognizing Lawrence’s offensive alignments will be key this week, Woodard said. When these teams played their regular season game last week, Lawrence completed just six passes, but for 228 yards, including two long touchdown plays.

“We’ve got to focus on the scheme, focus on our coverages. We have to know when the backs are coming out of the backfield, because that’s what really hurt us last week,” Woodard said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

tlazarczyk@centralmaine.com