By Zac Diodati
For the Forsyth County News
KENNESAW — Niko Vangarelli carried 28 times for 181 and three scores including a 6-yard go-ahead touchdown with 42 seconds to play Friday, denying Pinecrest its second win in as many weeks with a 21-14 win.
"Niko has been the workhorse for us all year long" Mount Paran coach Mitch Jordan said. "Everyone knows it's coming, so we try to have a little misdirection, but it was a great night for him. We had some miscues, but I'm just happy to get a win. We had a three-game losing streak, which we're not used to, but we got the win and it was a great job by our kids."
After neither team could find the end zone in the first quarter, Vangarelli's first score of the night came with 1:17 left before halftime, a 5-yard carry to put the Eagles ahead 7-0. The play capped a 15-play, 93-yard drive that lasted nearly nine minutes, burning most of the second quarter clock.
Pinecrest struck back in the third quarter when quarterback Bryce Balthaser connected with Sawyer Huffstetler for a wide-open 29-yard touchdown in the middle of the end zone, tying the game at 7-7. The play was part of a 13-for-25 passing, 191-yard performance for Balthaser.
Vangarelli scored again on a 15-yard run with 6:10 left in the fourth quarter, putting Mount Paran ahead 14-7.
Pinecrest tied the game again in the fourth quarter with 1:47 remaining when Balthaser again found an open receiver, this time an 11-yard score to Ethan Massey, evening the score at 14 apiece. Massey led the Paladins with three receptions for 56 yards.
Mount Paran was set up in excellent field position on the ensuing possession after Sebastian Moss returned the kickoff to the Pinecrest 38-yard line. Four Vangarelli runs later, the Eagles were back in front for good at 21-14.
"I don't think Pinecrest's record really reflects the kind of team they are," said Jordan. "They've played a tough schedule and been in every game. Both teams made some mistakes and kept each other in the game, and I think they were peaking at the right time, and we were just fortunate enough to get out of here with a win."