By Matt Green
For the Forsyth County News
A second half surge gave St. Francis a 28-23 victory over Pinecrest Academy in Cumming on Friday night.
After trailing 17-7 at the half, St. Francis outscored the Paladins 21-6 in the game’s final two quarters.
“They played hard,” Pinecrest head coach Terance Mathis said. “That’s all I can say. And we had a chance at the end. More growing pains. For all of us, myself included.”
Pinecrest (1-8, 0-7 Region 6-1A, Div. B) had a well-balanced attack in the first half, gaining 110 yards through the air and 103 on the ground. They also scored on each of their first three drives of the game.
St. Francis (3-6, 2-5) controlled the ball for nearly the entire second quarter. They went on a 14-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that took 8:31. Sean Paradise punched it in from nine yards out for the Knights’ first touchdown of the game.
The Paladins responded with a methodical drive before the half. Ryan DiFazio led a 7-play, 60-yard drive that ended when he found Patrick Sullivan, who made a spectacular grab in-between multiple Knights defenders, for a 25-yard touchdown, giving the Paladins a 17-7 halftime lead.
Coming out of the half, these looked like two completely different teams.
After managing 132 yards of total offense in the first half, St. Francis exploded for 256 yards in the second half. The Paladins simply couldn’t find an answer for Paradise. He ran for 235 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, and he racked up 145 of those in the second half.
“He was a beast,” Mathis said. “He got loose a couple times. We gave up some long plays in the passing game too, and that’s not what we do.”
For Pinecrest, it was the opposite. After gaining 213 yards in the first half, they were held to just 78 total yards in the second half. Brooks Binkley led the Paladins on the ground with 97 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, while Mangan led them through the air with six catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
“We had everything planned out perfectly,” Mangan said. “But I guess they just came out with more energy and more physicality. We’ve got to play with heart. It’s got to come from within.”
The loss gives the Paladins a 1-8 record for the season, their first losing season since 2011, but Mathis was proud of the way his team played.
“The performance by these boys was amazing,” Mathis said. “This is the team I remember five weeks ago, and I love it. I love where we are. I won’t sleep well tonight, but I hope they sleep like babies.”