Football is a game of 11-on-11 between the lines.
For Pinecrest Academy and Pace Academy, that cliché will become a motivational mantra with greater meaning this weekend.
Two Forsyth County public schools will host the academies from much smaller classifications Friday night. South Forsyth (0-1), which advanced to the state quarterfinals and played in the prestigious Corky Kell Classic last week, hosts Pinecrest Academy—a school a mile away on the same side of the same road—and West Forsyth (1-0) will welcome Pace Academy from the wooded hills of northwest Atlanta.
On paper these games look destined to be lopsided, especially considering how the ever-expanding classifications within the Georgia High School Association have continued to divide schools and alter perception. West rosters 95 players, South 94.
Meanwhile Pace will be bussing just 59 players to West, while Pinecrest has just 45 on its current roster.
The numbers are reflective of the school’s culture—South and West are part of Georgia’s newly-created Class 7A, which holds the 48 largest schools in terms of population in the state, including some of the state’s biggest powers such as Colquitt County, Grayson, McEachern and Roswell.
You have to look all the way down at 3A to find Pace, and at the bottom of the totem pole in Georgia’s Class 1A private school division is Pinecrest.
Still think these games will be easy? Just ask West head coach Adam Clack.
“You can take the classification out of it,” Clack said. “Pace is going to be some of the toughest competition on our schedule, if you look at the talent they have. That’s going to be a fun one. We don’t really know that much about each other. They’re going to be a challenge for sure.”
Pace is the defending Class 2A champion and has two Georgia commits in wide receiver Trey Blount and offensive lineman Andrew Thomas—both are considered 4-star prospects by 247Sports.com. Add in running back Deon Jackson, headed to Duke, and West’s defense will have its hands full.
Meanwhile Pinecrest is coming off an 10-2 season, a region championship and an ear-marked win over Mount Paran Christian—the Class 1A private school champions from two seasons ago—to clinch that title. Pinecrest is ranked by at least one local media poll as a top-10 team and is led by an elite triple-option quarterback in Ryan McCarthy, headed to The Citadel when his career between the pines ends.
One might be wondering what these drastically different schools are doing playing one another. Non-region scheduling is a different type of exercise now for coaches like Clack and South Forsyth’s Jeff Arnette—those two were only tasked with scheduling one non-region team a season while part of Class 6-6A, which had 10 members. Now, with just five region members, coaches are having to get creative and willing to think outside in the box.
“When you schedule five games, it becomes a frenzy,” Clack said. “There were days way before you’re supposed to be scheduling but we were. You build your schedule as best you can. Pace actually kind of came in late, we had a team we had to pull out, so I was looking for somebody to match a strength. They came calling.”
When it comes to the Pinecrest-South game, dubbed already by Pinecrest athletic director Chris Kane as the “David vs. Goliath” game, the vision was Pinecrest head coach Todd Winter’s from the start.
“It started with our own successes really,” Winter said. “Each and every year we have gotten better and we’ve put ourselves in a situation where a lot of schools will not schedule us. This was a scheduling year. Nobody locally wanted to play us so we’d either have to travel to Florida or North Carolina or play Landmark Christian, which honestly looks a lot like South.”
So why not play Landmark? It was all part of Winter’s strategic plan to gain points to benefit his team down the road. Class 1A playoffs are determined by a power ranking system.
“If you play up a classification you immediately get extra points,” Winter said. “So for us, if we lose like we’re supposed to then we don’t really lose any ground. If we compete, we might raise some eyebrows. If we win, well there’s that. So there’s no pressure on us.
“The thing is, at Pinecrest we’re all about challenging our kids, not just athletically but academically. We want our kids to be the best Christians and servants, and we’re always pushing them and challenging them. We’re the best Class 1A school in the county and South is probably the best public team, so we’ve got to step up. Some people think we’re crazy, but I’ve been through this before.”
The Pinecrest-South game will be the first in county history where a team in the state’s largest classification faces off against another from the state’s smallest classification.
“This is a great opportunity for the county,” South head coach Jeff Arnette told the FCN before the season. “These schools are in the same community, our players know their players, and they have some talented kids. It should be a great night.”