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Paladins pound Trinity Christian
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Forsyth County News

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Watch video highlights of the Pinecrest-Trinity Christian game from October 3, 2008.

Pinecrest Academy had done little in 2008 to answer questions about how their young team would bounce back after losing a slew of key players from last year’s region title team.

But Friday night, the Paladins looked like they were ready to be the class of the league again, taking command in the fourth quarter and trouncing Trinity Christian 35-21 in the final non-region tuneup.

“Our first-half schedule was tough and that’s what we wanted,” said head coach Charles Wiggins, after Pinecrest improved to 3-2-1. “We wanted to be prepared for region games. Now we’re going to go try to defend our championship.”

Pinecrest looked like they were in for an offensive shootout with the visitors from Dublin and their spread offense. Trinity rolled up 189 yards of rushing in the first half, including plays of 43 and 55 yards, and got the ball to  start the second in a manageable 21-14 hole.

But the Paladins’ halftime adjustments on defense couldn’t have worked better. Trinity picked up just 29 yards and three first downs for the rest of the game, and Pinecrest forced three fourth-quarter turnovers to help blow the game open.

“We found out right away we couldn’t run our gap-six defense against them, which we thought we might be able to do,” Wiggins said. “We adjusted at halftime and put spies on their quarterback and running back, and that took away everything they were doing.”

Linebacker E.J. Bueltel made the decisive play on defense, after Pinecrest had scored midway through the fourth to extend the lead to 28-14. On a Trinity fumble that somehow escaped a pile of bodies,

Bueltel scooped up the ball and ran 21 yards to the Crusaders’ 4 to squash the comeback drive. He recovered a second fumble in the final minutes as well.

“He’s our only returning  All-Region player, and he’s the heart and soul of this defense,” Wiggins said.

“It seems like whenever the ball’s on the ground he’s right around there somewhere.”

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Zach Wilson had the Paladins clicking on just about every cylinder throughout the night, which proved especially important in the early stages.

Trinity had scored first, but Wilson drove Pinecrest 70 yards on eight plays. He went 4-for-5 passing on that drive for 49 yards and tacked on a 24-yard scramble, and Michael Cassandra capped it off with a three-yard run on the final play of the first quarter. The extra point gave the lead over to the home team.

“He [Wilson] came to us and said he was in a zone and asked if he could just play offense,” Wiggins said. “We were able to leave him in on offense and not play defense, and he had one of his best games.”

Wilson finished the game 12-of-19 for 179 yards passing and was the  team’s leading rusher, gaining 88 yards on 14 carries.

But the numbers belied the efficiency of the drives he led, sprinkling in improvised scrambles among solid reads and decisive throws all night. His touchdown pass, a 28-yard strike to John DePalma with 3:19 to go in the second quarter, put Pinecrest ahead for good at 21-14. Even his lone interception was an overthrow of a deep pattern on third-and-long and acted as a surrogate punt.

Cassandra rushed for 62 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns, the second coming from six yards out with 7:24 to go in the game to put Pinecrest in complete control at 28-14.

That drive was set up after Trinity muffed a punt but recovered at their own nine.

Three straight running plays were stuffed, and the Crusaders had to punt from their own goal line.

Pinecrest took over in Trinity territory on the 43 after the punt, and it took six plays for Cassandra to find paydirt.

Kevin Metz had a two-yard scoring run  in the second quarter, and Wilson scored a window-dressing touchdown on a two-yard draw play after Bueltel’s fumble recovery and return in the fourth.

Pinecrest is home this Friday against Mount Vernon Academy, which is homecoming.