By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
Summer, as it always does, is ending. Vacations, family outings and backyard barbecues are winding to a close. Students are begrudgingly returning to campus. Football, mercifully, is back.
From the pro teams, to high school, players and coaches begin preparing themselves for that highly awaited transition from the doldrums of the offseason, to the season’s first game—from practicing on empty pastures to playing under the lights.
On Friday night, former Atlanta Falcons wide Receiver and second-year Pinecrest Academy head coach Terance Mathis stood planted in the late summer grass and watched the final, illuminated seconds tick away on the scoreboard. For him, the season’s first evening under the lights would mark an addition to a career that has spanned decades.
His Paladins finished the evening with a 22-7 loss against visiting Riverside Military Academy in a game that had all of the usual traits of a typical preseason game: Mental mistakes, flashes of brilliance, plenty of rust and an underlying tone that resembled something much closer to a high-stakes practice than an actual regular-season contest.
Regardless of the final score, the 12-year NFL veteran felt that he saw what he wanted to see from his squad in their first scrimmage.
“I did,” Mathis said. “Even though (our first group) gave up one big play, that’s ok. They were in the right place. That’s the key.”
The big play occurred after a stout, scoreless first quarter by the starters in the form of a 31-yard scamper from Riverside’s Dylan Parr, who took a third-and-one handoff and showcased game-changing speed on the game’s first score.
Outside of Parr’s second-quarter run, the Pinecrest defensive starters put forth what largely was a strong defensive effort, albeit with occasional lapses. Led by defensive linemen Stone Brown’s three-sack effort, the Paladins held Riverside to six first-half points, while Brown found himself in the opposing backfield throughout the duration of the half.
“He’s our superhero,” Mathis said laughing. “He’s going to be that force on defense. We’re excited about the year he’s about to have.”
Offensively, the Paladins’ only points came in the form of a late, fourth-quarter goal line plow by backup running back Tony Novo, which immediately followed a 25-yard connection between backup QB Brice Balthaser and Breckin Barbee on a third-and-ten bomb.
Pinecrest’s best throw of the game, however, may have came on a play that was blown dead late in the first half. Starter Ryan DiFazio dropped back on third and long and put a beautiful ball into the chest of receiver David Stubbs, on what would have been a 40-yard gain for a first down.
However, DiFazio was called down by contact due to preseason precautions, and the play resulted in a five-yard-loss.
“I’ve only got one quarterback,” Mathis said. “I can’t get him hurt. With him, he’s so shifty, I think maybe only two of those might have been sacks and the rest of them—he was out of there.”
Mathis enters this season after a first year that saw his team finish with a single win. While he’s mentioned previously this summer that he doesn’t intend to put a specific number on his team’s expectations regarding the win column, he’s abundantly clear on where his focus is going forward.
“We want to win number one first,” Mathis said.