COMMERCE — It was a historic night for Pinecrest.
With a 31-21 victory over the Commerce High School Tigers Friday, the Paladins football team became the first program in to achieve a winning season in Pinecrest’s brief, three-year history in the Georgia High School Associated.
Pinecrest quarterback Jimmy Strom had 296 all-purpose yards and accounted for all four of Pinecrest’s touchdowns.
"I asked them to leave everything they had on the field," Pinecrest head coach Todd Winter said. "[Strom] left everything on the field tonight. He played hopefully not his last game for Pinecrest. He left everything out on the field, and so did the rest of the seniors."
Despite their win on Friday night, the Paladins (5-4, 3-3 Region 8-A) are still unsure about their playoff chances.
As of Friday night, the Paldins are ranked 19th in the GHSA Class A Private Power Rankings. In order to qualify for postseason play, the Paladins must be ranked in the top 16.
"We kind of have to sit and wait for the computers to crunch the numbers," Winter said.
Things started slowly for the Paladins. The Tigers received the ball to open the game and then put together a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that also took 6:05 off the clock. The Tigers used a smash-mouth rushing attack behind running backs Terrick Ramsey (21 rushes, 156 yards, TD), Jamir Walton (15 carries, 80 yards), and Jamal Browner (12 carries, 94 yards).
Following the first Tigers’ possession, the Paladins went three-and-out and punted. The Tigers continued to rely on their rushing attack as the trio of Ramsey, Walton, and Browner continued to pick up yards on multiple runs.
It took two Commerce turnovers to give Pinecrest the spark it needed.
On fourth-and-2 on the Pinecrest 21-yard line, Marquavious Little easily got the first down to resume the drive, but coughed up the ball on the 13-yard line and Pinecrest recovered. The Paladins failed to capitalize and were forced to punt after another three-and-out. The Tigers, however, gave them another opportunity when Ramsey fumbled the ball on the third play of the following drive on the Pinecrest 35-yard line and Pinecrest linebacker John-Paul Metz recovered it.
With the help of some trickery, the Paladins made good on this opportunity. On third-and16 on their own 35-yard line, the Paladins appeared to be running a wide-receiver sweep with Jonathan Moreno. Just as Moreno, coming from the left side, made his break toward the right side of the field, he tossed it back to Strom (2 of 5, 73 passing yards, TD), who found a wide-open Patrick Wilborn on the Commerce 20-yard line. With no Tiger in sight, Wilborn easily ran into the end zone with 7:10 remaining in the second quarter.
"A lot of people can say what they want about barnyard plays, but it’s not barnyard when you execute it and score," Winter said. "It turns momentum around and our kids love those things, it makes things fun."
Tied 7-7, the momentum shifted in Pinecrest’s favor and the Paladins kept it for the rest of the game. The Tigers punted on their following drive, placing the Paladins on their own 34-yard line. On the fifth play of the drive from the Commerce 40-yard line, Strom broke off a 35-yard run.
Two plays later, Strom capped the eight-play, 66-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run. Taking the lead 14-7 with 1:06 remaining in the second quarter, the Paladins did not surrender the lead for the rest of the game. In fact, they added to it before the first half concluded.
"Once we got momentum on our side, I don’t think we gave it back," Winter said.
On the third play of the following Commerce drive, Pinecrest’s Adam Guard intercepted Tiger quarterback Daniel Streetman on the Tiger 41-yard line. Strom covered all 41 of those yards on the next play. On a quarterback keeper, Strom hit the middle, shook off a few Tiger tackles and sprinted up the left sideline for 41-yard touchdown score with 34.8 remaining in the first half.
"Offensively, we were able to hone in on what they were doing, what they were giving us, and executing," Winter said.
The Paldains, and Strom, wasted no time continuing that execution in the second half. Receiving the ball on their own 27-yard line to open the half, Strom broke the drive open again with a 67-yard run on third-and-10. Dropping back off of a play-action fake, Strom came off on a delayed run and hit the left sideline for a big gain. Three plays later, Strom ran four yards for a touchdown.
Down 28-7, Commerce eventually answered late in the third, when Ramsey took an inside hand-off 42-yards for a score with 1:32 remaining in the quarter. A 30-yard field goal from Christopher Birozes was Pinecrest’s final score of the game with 10:38 remaining. Commerce added a touchdown late when Streetman found Walton for a three-yard scoring connection with 15.9 seconds remaining in the game.
As Pinecrest awaits its postseason fate, Winter said his team succeeded in accomplishing other goals as well.
"We told the kids two things we’d like to have at the end of the season," Winter said. "One is respect amongst teams in our region and teams we play. Two, to be known as a tough football team and I think they’ve earned that."
"We got everything out of these guys and a little bit more, I think. At the same time, they reached deep down inside themselves and really gave us everything they had"