There was plenty to celebrate at the beginning of Pinecrest Academy’s home football opener against Athens Christian on Friday night.
The school had just unveiled its newly installed turf field, and even better, the team that had the privilege of playing on it for the foreseeable future was playing well. Just two minutes in, quarterback Bryce Balthaser found Ethan Massey for a 27-yard touchdown pass, and towards the end of the first quarter, Pinecrest was in Athens Christian territory, poised to score again.
But as the opening quarter drew to a close, dark clouds began to gather, and with 41 seconds left until the second quarter, the game came to a grinding halt due to lightning in the area, with Pinecrest leading by six.
There wouldn’t be another down played that night, with the rest of the game being postponed to Monday. But as the Paladins walked onto the turf to continue their game two days later, something was immediately obvious.
“The whole atmosphere was different,” Pinecrest head coach Terance Mathis said. “We capitalized on the energy from everybody, the new turf, all that. So the energy was high. That storm, it took something out of us.”
And that lack of energy ultimately was just one of a few things that the Paladins struggled with on Monday, with the visiting Golden Eagles taking advantage of missed tackles and turnovers to erase Pinecrest’s early lead, eventually handing them a 34-13 loss.
“I saw it Friday and I saw it today -- they just weren't the same team that they were on Friday night,” Mathis said. “That's my fault. I'm going to put it on me. I need to do a better job getting them ready to play.”
After the first quarter quickly ended on Monday, the two teams traded drives before the Golden Eagles finally broke through with 5:52 left to the half, with Johness Davis scoring on a five-yard run, tying the game at 6-6 after a blocked PAT.
The score stayed knotted up heading into the second half, and with 4:49 left in the third, Balthaser capped off an impressive drive by diving into the end zone for a score after having a pinpoint 21-yard touchdown pass to Jay Black nullified due to a penalty.
The Paladins had the lead back at 13-6, but it didn’t last long. With 3:08 left in the third, Davis broke free for another touchdown run from 37 yards out to tie the game again at 13-13. Davis caused plenty of headaches for Pinecrest as the game went on, ultimately finishing the game with five touchdown runs, including a 99-yard score, to help seal the game.
“I said if we tackle, we have a chance to win,” Mathis said. “If we don't turn the ball over, we have a chance to win. We didn't tackle and we turned the ball over, and we lost. Those were the two things we talked about the whole week. I knew that if we didn't tackle (Davis), it was going to be a long night.”
While Balthaser and running back Tony Novo both put together solid runs, two interceptions and a lost fumble in the second half contributed to the loss, which just fed a revamped Golden Eagles offense.
“We knew coming in that they were not going to give us the same look that they gave us Friday, and they didn't,” Pinecrest linebacker Joey Kiernan said. “They came out, they put another guy in the box and they decided that they were going to run right at us. We had injuries that killed us on the D-line. We had to make adjustments, they had to make adjustments, and they won it this week.”
And it won’t just be injuries that the Paladins will have to deal with this week. They’ll have just three days to recover and prepare for Whitefield Academy, who they’ll host on Friday. Mathis knows that task will be quite the challenge to pull off.
“We've got a raw deal,” Mathis said. “We had two guys go down today and we're playing with 25 kids. What can you do? You've just got to keep fighting.”