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Football: Pinecrest falls in 8-man opener despite second-half rally
Breckin Barbee
Pinecrest Academy quarterback Breckin Barbee attempts a pass Friday during the Paladins' season opener against Harvester Christian. - photo by David Roberts

Breckin Barbee needed to recalibrate.

On his first pass Friday night against Harvester Christian, Barbee targeted wide receiver Oscar Lynch on a fly pattern, eager to try out his new 6-foot-5 weapon. But the ball sailed over Lynch's head and fell incomplete.

Same story with his deep ball at the end of the first quarter and his fourth-down heave before halftime.

Then it clicked.

Down 40-24 in the fourth quarter, Barbee let another one rip, this time finding a streaking Ryan Bartling down the Pinecrest sideline. Barbee hit Bartling in stride, and Bartling raced 83 yards into the end zone to make it a one-score game with 9:13 left.

"That was a quick call. We were already lined up and we just called it," Barbee said. "We do that a lot in practice and connect on it well. I'm glad that finally connected like the other long routes didn't. So that was really exciting, and hopefully it happens again."

Harvester Christian responded with a seven-minute drive but ultimately punted, giving Pinecrest 1:59 to march down the field and tie the game.

Barbee connected on his first four passes of the drive, adding a 16-yard scamper, but his next two fell incomplete and his last pass was intercepted, as Pinecrest fell 40-32 to Harvester Christian in its 8-man debut.

Pinecrest trailed 28-8 at halftime and 40-16 at the end of the third quarter but outscored the Hawks 16-0 in the final quarter.

"When the first half is 28-8, it's easy to say, 'We can't pull this off.' But those guys proved to me the guts and the heart that they have, and I can't be more proud of them," Pinecrest head coach Shawn Coury said. "That's as proud as I can possibly be of them, because they battled. That's what we've got to do; we've got to battle. In this whole process — overcoming the COVID stuff and this change in how we're playing ball — it's all a battle."

It was Pinecrest's first game since joining the Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools' 8-man ranks.

Barbee finished 21 of 36 for 225 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He also converted all four of Pinecrest's two-point plays, passing three times and running once.

Bartling led the Paladins with 120 receiving yards on five receptions.

Brock Barbee
Pinecrest sophomore Brock Barbee fights for extra yardage Friday during the Paladins' 40-28 loss to Harvester Christian. - photo by David Roberts
One of Barbee's touchdown passes went to younger brother Brock Barbee on a 33-yard tunnel screen. Brecken then found Brock on an out route to convert the two-point play.

"That was really cool. We hadn't done that since, like, elementary school," Brecken said. "That was really fun to do. He's really just gotten so much better over the past couple years. He's really just grown a lot — he's bigger than me. I think he's going to do really, really well."

Brock finished with those two catches and had two carries for six yards on the ground, adding a fumble recovery on defense.

"It's cool from two points. It's cool, yeah, because you see brother connect to brother, but you know mom and dad are losing their minds in the stands as they connect," Coury said. "It's neat to see family do that."

Brecken, a junior, started his first varsity game at quarterback Friday. Naturally, his favorite target was wide receiver Colin Brown, who pulled in a team-high eight catches for 44 yards.

Brown also caught Barbee's other two two-point conversions and had an interception on defense.

Barbee said he and Brown established that rhythm as freshmen, when he played quarterback on Pinecrest's JV team.

"We already had that bond and chemistry," Barbee said. "He knows the game really well and he's a real competitor. He's just easy to throw to."

Barbee actually found himself on the receiving end in the second quarter after downing Brown's punt perfectly at the 1-yard line.

Pinecrest's defense shined on the ensuing drive, as Bartling and Alex Jeffords made a pair of tackles at the line of scrimmage to set up third-and-6. Lynch dropped back into coverage on the third-down play and forced an incomplete pass, resulting in a Harvester Christian punt. 

It was one of Lynch's last plays of the game, though, as Pinecrest's recently converted star basketball player missed most of the second half with a leg injury. Lynch wasn't alone, however, as Pinecrest dealt with cramps for much of the game.

"It's hard, but it's good that we know where we are now," Coury said. "The blessing to us is that we don't play next Friday, so we've got two weeks. COVID made it hard to have a summer like we would usually have — weight room, running and all of that — and limited some of the stuff we could do. Because it limited some of the stuff that we couldn't do, it also limited that we couldn't have a scrimmage. So we haven't seen full-speed, live play yet. It's hard to simulate in practice. So this is really our first test at full, live-speed play. Now we can kind of see where we are, and the boys were really excited."

Harvester Christian scored on its first two drives after halftime, pushing its lead to a 24-point advantage.

Pinecrest answered when Brock Barbee's fumble recovery set the Paladins up on Harvester Christian's 25-yard line. 

Jeffords barreled ahead for three yards on first down, then after an offside call, a 2-yard loss by Breckin Barbee, and a 9-yard catch by Mark Metz, Barbee found Brown for a 10-yard score.

Pinecrest's defense forced a three-and-out on the next drive, then Barbee connected with Bartling on the 83-yard bomb to make it a one-score game.

Harvester Christian ran nine plays on its final drive, including six carries by running back Guy West, who had 147 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. 

Quarterback Jake Read accounted for nearly 300 yards of total offense, completing 17 of 28 passes for 269 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while adding 30 yards and two scores on the ground. 

Jeffords led the Paladins with 50 yards on 16 carries and was a constant presence on defense.

"Two things came from Alex today," Coury said. "One, obviously how hard-nosed he is at linebacker, but even more so at tailback. The other thing I saw from Alex today that I've kind of been waiting (to see), was his positive influence on the sideline and his positive influence in the huddle. He's a good leader, and he leads at practice, but I was kind of waiting for him to flip that switch to take over. He took over tonight. He took over when he came to me and basically said, 'Do it again. Run it again; I got it.' I gave him the chance, he took it and he did it. That kind of confidence in him is I think going to filter out to the rest of the team."

Pinecrest (0-1) has a bye next week and will host Hearts Academy at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11.

"I think our team became a family tonight," Coury said. "There were moments through this transition, through this summer, where you could see them start to come together. But tonight in the second half, they really came together, and I think that sort of sets the tone for where we're going."

Pinecrest Academy's football team runs through the smoke before Friday's game against Harvester Christian. - photo by David Roberts