When Pinecrest Academy head coach Todd Winter walked off the field Friday night, shoes and the bottom his pants drenched in mud, he could only explain his emotions as “euphoria.”
Winter, in his fourth year coaching the Paladins, didn’t just witness his team upset any state champion. They upset Mount Paran Christian, a team on a 23-game winning streak in which it was averaging a 41.5-13.7 margin of victory; a team that has sent a quarterback to Mercer, a running back to Georgia Tech, and will send a lineman, Allen Cater, to the University of Indiana; a team that had a running back, Taylor Trammell, leading the entire state in rushing with 1,939 yards through nine games.
Still, the once unbeatable Eagles are now 9-1. Pinecrest is now 9-1. After weeks of being mostly ignored in the Georgia Sports Writers Association poll, Pinecrest now has moved up to No. 6, while the Eagles fell from their perch at the top to No. 4. As well, Pinecrest will be ensured a home game in the playoffs as long as they’re in it. That’s good news for Winter, who contends there really is something special about playing “between the pines.”
“There’s something special about playing here,” Winter said. “It seems like last year, we made the playoffs and had a nice season, but really didn’t have any respect. This year we beat Trion, who gets a ton of respect, then we competed pretty well, I thought, with Mount Paran the first time, but still no respect. I think we’re going to get it now, but now we’ve got to back it up.”
Indeed, the conditions for Friday were special.
Tons of rain from earlier in the week turned Pinecrest’s thick, grass field into a mud pit. While the Paladins practiced in the conditions all week, they were able to diagnose the slippery state of the football and make adjustments. The gameplan for Friday called for the elimination of the pitch, the third phase in Pinecrest’s triple option offense, and rather relied on Ryan McCarthy at quarterback and the fullbacks to carry the load and protect the ball.
Meanwhile, the Eagles were a team known for playing fast—they have sport turf back home—and had their lowest scoring game in two years by a long shot, two weeks ago, at Trion in a 7-6 win. Maybe the Eagles had shown a bit of vulnerability, and as Winter put it, “It’s hard to beat a team twice in a season.”
Winter said he and his team were confident going into the game, which counts as the Region 6-A title, but still, the emotions that came afterward were humbling.
“They’re a real football program,” Winter said of Mount Paran. “They could give a lot of teams in other classes a run.
“This was our biggest win in program history,” Winter said. “Nothing compares to this one, at any level.”